Strawberry jelly

| 1 min read

Have you ever made your own strawberry jelly? The recipe is straightforward: toss together 1 cup of strawberries (fresh or frozen), 1 cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of pectin (to thicken). Bring to a boil and let it cool.

Congratulations, you've made your own jelly! It also tastes 10x better than store-bought jars. You can tweak ratios and swap ingredients to your own delight, and it takes about 5 minutes to make.

Before we started making our own jelly at home, the thought never really occurred to me. I simply had the habit of buying jelly at the grocery store. Not knowing how to make jelly made me assume it was either diffucult or required a time consuming process. As it turns out, neither are true.

While I'd love to have a cooking blog at some point of my life, this one's still about programming. Where am I heading here?

External libraries are like strawberry jelly.

Before you npm install strawberry-jelly, consider making your own. Having an entire ecosystem of packages at your fingertips is amazing, but dependencies come at a cost. The cost of not fully understanding or owning the code. The cost of a package being a general solution: it might be incomplete or too complete, adding unnecessary weight.

Making jelly is a worthy tradeoff because it's fast and easy to make, and substantially better than the alternative.

I'm not asking anyone to stop installing dependencies altogether, but to think twice before adding an external helpers or toolboxes. Don't install dependencies when they're an easy solution, install them when they're a better solution.


Advent of Code 2019

| 1 min read

It's that time of the year, for the Advent of Code,
and this time around, I'm solving puzzles with Node.

My prior attempts included Elixir and TypeScript,
but after a few days of tinkering, most challenges got skipped.

I'm going back to basics, this time to sharpen my blades,
by solving all given puzzles without libraries to aid.

Feel free to join in, we've only just begun!
Follow along on GitHub, or enroll to be part of the fun.


Thoughts (and doubts) after messing around with the JAMstack

| 2 min read

I very much enjoy building sites with static site generators like Hugo or Next.js. Static site generators provide a great developer experience, perform great out of the box, and simplifying DevOps makes me a happy camper.

In my experience, the JAMstack (JavaScript, APIs, and Markup) is great until is isn't. When the day comes that I need to add something dynamic–and that day always comes–I start scratching my head.

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Shop-built jigs

| 1 min read

Back in the summer we were working on a new version of our package documentation site at Spatie.

Back then, all docs for all packages were stored as markdown files in a single docs.spatie.be repository. This made the website easy to maintain, but separating the docs from their code added unnecessary friction for contributors to also contribute to our docs when sending a PR.

We wanted to change things up and move the markdown files to their respective package repositories. This meant we had to come up with a way to aggregate files from multiple git repositories and serve them from a single website.

We ended up with an unsexy, procedural, 38 line node script to fetch all markdown files and copy them to a local folder. Then a simple static site generator does its thing and turn those markdown files into the website they were meant to become.

We could have built a custom web app, and the code would've been cleaner and have a pure architecture. Instead, we ended up with a script that fits on a 13” screen and a zero-config static site generator.

Don't be afraid to choose a crude, simple, shop-built jig over a complex solution just for the sake of purity.


Important ideas come back

Long overdue, but I finished reading Shape Up. This quote stood out as I've experienced its effect first-hand.

It’s easy to overvalue ideas. The truth is, ideas are cheap. They come up all the time and accumulate into big piles.

Really important ideas will come back to you. When's the last time you forgot a really great, inspiring idea? And if it's not that interesting—maybe a bug that customers are running into from time to time—it'll come back to your attention when a customer complains again or a new customer hits it. If you hear it once and never again, maybe it wasn’t really a problem.

I used to keep lists for everything little thing that popped up. Both things that I had to do and things that I wanted to do. These lists slowly became mountains of work with paralyzing gazes, having the opposite effect of motivating me.

At some point I decided to delete all the baggage I'd been carrying around. It was exhilarating!

Now I only add things to a todo list that I'm not allowed to forget, not things that I have to or want to do. Something that's on a list for more than a week is a smell; maybe it's not as important as I thought.


Full Stack Europe 2019 recap

| 1 min read

I recently attended the inaugural edition of Full Stack Europe. What a lovely conference it was! I had a great time watching the talks and talking with other attendees, and came home with a lot of food for thought. Here are a few tweet-sized reviews of my favorite talks.

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The rule of least power

During his lightning talk at Full Stack EU, Bram Van Damme mentioned the rule of least power.

The rule of least power was described in an essay by Tim Berners-Lee back in 2006.

When designing computer systems, one is often faced with a choice between using a more or less powerful language for publishing information, for expressing constraints, or for solving some problem. This finding explores tradeoffs relating the choice of language to reusability of information. The “Rule of Least Power” suggests choosing the least powerful language suitable for a given purpose.

This is a useful principle to follow for the web because less powerful languages fail better.

Forgot a closing tag in HTML? There's a fair chance the browser will just fix it for you.

Did you write an invalid or unsupported CSS rule? The browser will ignore the statement and parse the rest as intended.

Got a syntax error in your JavaScript app? Prepare to watch the world burn.

Read the full essay on w3.org.



Akin's laws of spacecraft design

Back in 2003 when I was still in elementary school, Dave Akins wrote a list of laws to abide when building a spacecraft. I'm not planning to build one of those any time soon, but there seem to be many similarities with web development. A few examples:

  • Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion
  • Design is based on requirements. There’s no justification for designing something one bit “better” than the requirements dictate
  • Don’t do nuthin’ dumb

Here's a good one te keep next to your desk, and consider yourself lucky next time you ship a bug to production.

  • Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies

Read all 44 laws at their home on spacecraft.ssl.umd.edu.


Prioritization systems

| 3 min read

I work at an agency that started out building websites and small apps, but the past years have shifted towards larger web apps and products.

Small projects are easy to manage. GitHub issues or Basecamp todos are more than enough to keep things going. Adding a feature or refactoring a small project is also easy, because there aren't too many moving parts to take consider.

Large and especially long-living projects are constant moving targets. It's harder to estimate things and technical debt can become a real issue. A linear, chronological task list won't do it anymore, we need to start prioritizing things.

I want to share four systems that have helped me, both on a personal and team level, prioritize work on large projects.

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