Changelog News – Episode #80

The promise of hackable software

+ the undercover generalist, the road most documented, rebuilding FourSquare & how to connect ideas

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Geoffrey Litt thinks browser extensions are underrated, Adolfo Ochagavía on being a generalist in a specialist’s world, Jack Garbus praises the Arch Wiki, Terence Eden tries to rebuild FourSquare for ActivityPub using OpenStreetMap & Sebastien Dubois teaches us how to connect ideas together.

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Sentry – Meet Neil Manvar, their Director of Solutions Engineering, for an unrestricted live group demo on Thursday, February 22nd and RSVP to get all your questions answered!Oh, and use code CHANGELOG when you sign up to get $100 OFF the team plan. Too easy, right?

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All links mentioned in this episode of Changelog News (and more) are in its companion newsletter.

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Changelog

Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

What up, nerds? I’m Jerod and this is Changelog News for the week of Monday, February 5th, 2024.

The internet is awash with Apple Vision Pro unboxings, reviews, hot takes & memes. But you already knew that. This humble podcast will continue our focus on telling you about stuff you don’t already know about.

So, let’s get into the news.

In a post titled “The promise of hackable software” Geoffrey Litt writes why he thinks browser extensions are underrated:

Among major software platforms today, browser extensions are the rare exception that allow and encourage users to modify the apps that we use, in creative ways not intended by their original developers. On smartphone and desktop platforms, this sort of behavior ranges from unusual to impossible, but in the browser it’s an everyday activity.

Browser extensions remind us what it’s like to have deep control over how we use our computers.

Amen to that! Perhaps people like us who live, breathe & eat (metaphorically) open source software take hackability for granted at times. But we shouldn’t! Geoffrey says it’s not an accident that openness emerged on the web platform:

When Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, he imagined it fitting into this tradition. “My vision was a system in which sharing what you knew or thought should be as easy as learning what someone else knew.”

This post was originally written in 2019, but it (deservedly) resurfaced this week, so he added some 2024 updates at the end. Amongst other addenda is what Geoffrey is working on in this space: malleable software powered by AI

With apologies on the pronunciation, Adolfo Ochagavía says:

Since starting out as an independent contractor, I’ve always felt a tension between being a generalist software engineer, yet having to market myself as a specialist… Below follows an account of my struggles, hoping it might be useful for other adventurers out there.

I can commiserate with Adolfo here. I’m a long-time proponent of generalizing to maximize your impact and minimize the odds of investing big in the wrong tech, but I certainly have felt the tension between that and potential clients who have very specific needs and no good way to find someone to help them except to look for a specialist. He concludes:

Paradoxically, it looks like presenting yourself as a specialist is a requirement to get generalist projects! How is that possible? … my current theory is that focusing on your experience with a specific technology, and on your involvement in a particular community, makes it easier to establish trust with people who don’t know you well. And, as trust grows, there’s more and more room for the undercover generalist to come to the light of day!

It’s now time for Sponsored News!

Are you sick of wasting cycles playing whack-a-mole with bugs? Sentry’s got you! No sales meeting required.

Sentry shows developers what’s broken with code-level visibility from pre to post release. Meet Neil Manvar, their Director of Solutions Engineering, for an unrestricted live group demo on Thursday, February 22nd and RSVP to get all your questions answered! Link is in the show notes.

Oh, and use code CHANGELOG when you sign up to get $100 OFF the team plan. Too easy, right?

Thanks again to Sentry for sponsoring Changelog News, and don’t forget to use code CHANGELOG when you sign up.

Jack Garbus writes:

How great would it be if the solution to most errors you face were in the first place you looked? That’s what the Arch Wiki has been for me: a massive wealth of information and troubleshooting resources to help me navigate the various configuration and installation issues I’ve encountered. Some people claim Arch Linux is too difficult for new users, but for me it’s been the only distribution I’ve been able to get consistently working, and it’s all thanks to the detailed documentation and known workarounds.

I’m a long-time Debian user, but I tried Arch (btw) once back in the day. The best part of the experience was the Arch Wiki. By far. So I’m picking up what Jack is putting down in this post:

I love exciting, and popular, and new software, but installing Arch showed me that popular isn’t as important as understandable.

His conclusion: “with all else equal, take the road most documented.”

Here’s Terence Eden:

I used to like the original FourSquare. The “mayor” stuff was a bit silly, and my friends never left that many reviews, but I loved being able to signal to my friends “I am at this cool museum” or “We’re at this pub if you want to meet” or “Spending the day at the park”.

So, is there a way to recreate that early Web 2.0 experience with open data and ActivityPub? Let’s find out!

He divides the work into two parts (getting nearby points of interest & sharing location on the Fediverse) and then gets to work, but never puts it all together. The bad news, from the end: “Creating an ActivityPub server which can post geotagged notes into the Fediverse might be a little beyond my skillset!”

If that part were straight forward, perhaps we’d see a trend of Rebuilding $X for ActivityPub using $Y posts…

Sebastien Dubois:

As you learn and grow, you’ll accumulate more and more knowledge. While each piece is important, the relationships between ideas is, at least, as important as the ideas themselves.

This is a powerful post to help you connect ideas together with actionable steps around knowledge graphs, how to use tooling like Obsidian & helping decide what deserves to be linked, and what doesn’t.

That’s the news for now, but check out this week’s newsletter for more awesome links and tools, including: dep-tree a code base entropy visualizer, 12 modern CSS one-line upgrades, a deep dive on pairing HTMX with Web Components, and ASCII Theater, which streams feature films in ASCII via SSH.

On, and this is episode 80 so it’s time once again for some Changelog++ shout outs!

SHOUT OUT to our newest members: Daniel W, Rusty N, Olivia B, Dan S, Benjamin G, Arthur M, Johan S, Kristofer B, Marek N, Dylan G, Darron S, Sebastian B, Thomas C, Fabian G, Ruben V, Jonathan P, Jakub C, Eugene T, Sukhdeep B, Johannes K, Vivek S, Cole C, Konrad O, Brett N, Fang Z, Rod S, Asem H, Hubert C, Philip K, Kilian K, Pontus U, Jesse B, Ben R, Jon B, David G, Shaun O, Christopher P, Tony G, Justin P, Mads D, Jan S, Wes M & Silviu B!

We appreciate you for supporting our work with your hard-earned cash.

If Changelog++ is new to you… that is our membership program that you should join to ditch the ads, get closer to the metal with extended and exclusive episodes, rep the pods on your laptop or wherever with a free pack of stickers, directly support our work & get shout outs like the ones you just heard. Learn all about it at changelog.com/++

Have a great week, tell your friends about Changelog News if you dig it, and I’ll talk to you again real soon.

Changelog

Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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