An endless loop

Just finished the article “Ontological Design Has Become Influential In Design Academia – But What Is It?” by JP Hartnett for AIGA Eye on Design, via the Feminist Open Source Investigations Group chat.

This is somewhat related to the previous post, the “we are our experiences” concept. But much more formal than my ramblings, better philosophical underpinnings for sure!

I’d heard of ontological design but hadn’t really dug in to it. This article is a useful dive in.

In very few words (specifically professor of design theory Anne-Marie Willis’s words, not mine): “Design designs us”. In more words, from Hartnett’s article:

A human being cannot exist independently of its surrounding environment — it is not possible to be without being-in-the-world. Being, then, is always relational: with everything that surrounds us, including the full complexity of the completely designed worlds that we inhabit. This point is crucial for ontological design theorists: design doesn’t just perform certain functions — a car transports you from A to B, a poster displays information, etc. — the interrelated totality of designs construct the world through which humans are brought into being and come to be defined through. Human beings, in turn, design the world, which, in turn, designs them… and so on. The process is circular, like an endless loop.

And on the consequences of embracing ontological design in practice instead of relegating it to theory and academia:

One welcome outcome of an embrace of ontological design theory would be the death of the individualism that has plagued the design profession — “iconic” designs, individual designers, celebrated in isolation as they usually are in design publications — don’t make any sense in this context.

That would be welcome indeed.

I don’t quite see how it can happen unless there is a true revolution in the way we talk and think about design—more holistic and less about singular problems, more collective and less individual—but maybe circumstances are ripening for such a change.


Sass + Eleventy, remember to opt out of using .gitignore

I’m working on an Eleventy site at the moment, the first Eleventy site I’ve done that’s been complex enough CSS-wise to warrant using Sass. I’ve turned to Phil Hawksworth’s Sass + Eleventy technique for the job. It’s a great, simple way of using Sass with Eleventy with a little bit of preprocessing courtesy of Gulp.

Hit a wall at one point though, it was smooth sailing and then my CSS updates just stopped working.

Turns out I had added /_includes/main.css (the compiled styles) to my .gitignore file since I prefer not to commit compiled files, but I forgot that Eleventy uses the .gitignore file + the .eleventyignore file to decide what not to compile. So Eleventy was just ignoring it. 🤦🏻‍♀️

I did this .gitignore change as an end-of-day commit, tidying things up before closing my laptop. When I picked the project back up days later, it took me longer than I’d like to admit to figure out what was going on!

To sort it, I just had to opt out of using .gitignore by adding eleventyConfig.setUseGitIgnore(false); to the .eleventy.js config file, and then adding the necessary files listed in .gitignore to .eleventyignore. Then I re-ran gulp watch & npx eleventy --serve, and all was well.

Separate but related to static site generators: Check out Astro. Would be curious to see a detailed comparison of Eleventy vs Astro since Eleventy is currently top-of-the-list for me in terms of static site generators.


Two articles on SPA or SPA-like sites vs alternatives

I missed these two articles by Tom MacWright from last year.

Second-guessing the modern web, 10 May 2020
If not SPAs, What?, 28 October 2020

In both, he outlines few upsides and downsides about the single page app (SPA) approach to websites and has a few points that I have really struggled to articulate in the past.

From “Second-guessing”:

There is a swath of use cases which would be hard without React and which aren’t complicated enough to push beyond React’s limits. But there are also a lot of problems for which I can’t see any concrete benefit to using React. Those are things like blogs, shopping-cart-websites, mostly-CRUD-and-forms-websites. For these things, all of the fancy optimizations are trying to get you closer to the performance you would’ve gotten if you just hadn’t used so much technology.

I’ve dabbled with React and Vue in small side projects and experiments. But the point above is the big reason I’ve never taken the time to sit down and learn either of them properly. For almost every client site I’ve ever done, it just didn’t make sense to make it an SPA.

And I’m not 100% sure, but I think this might contribute to longevity. Some of my clients are still working with the same sites I built for them nearly 10 years ago, a few with just minor security-related updates in the meantime and no other maintenance strictly required. That’s not to say that those sites couldn’t use a “lick of paint” to bring them in to the 2020s; the point is that they work. And for organizations working on really tight budgets, or budgets that fluctuate wildly due to public funding, stability is really important. They can’t afford a developer on retainer to keep things running smoothly.

But of course the SPA vibe is pretty attractive, particularly for cultural orgs. MacWright has some decent alternatives suggested in “If not SPAs” including Turbolinks, Barba.js, and Will also mention MoOx/pjax since I’ve used it before for page transitions with very good results, but probably won’t use it in the future as it hasn’t been updated in a while.

And again, there’s the rub. The more non-native scripts, plugins, etc I use in a project, the more likely that it’s going to be a major headache (and thus major time/money for the client) for me to change things down the line if or when that bit of tech is no longer supported or has changed significantly.

So it’s not even so much about being wary of React or Vue, it’s about not making assumptions, being cautious and cognizant of future needs or restrictions when proposing a tech stack. Any tech stack you choose will ultimately become a ball-and-chain, not just those based on JavaScript frameworks. It’s just that the ball can sometimes be heavier than it needed to be, and you can anticipate that with a little foresight.


Some long-winded thoughts on privacy policies and consent popups

This Q&A is compiled from conversations I have had with many, many clients and collaborators who have had a hard time navigating things like the GDPR, privacy policies, cookie notices, consent messaging, and other related topics.

Here are all the questions covered below:

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Edit your hosts file on a Mac to spoof DNS changes

Sometimes I need to spoof DNS changes before they go live, like when double-checking the behavior of a site in a production environment before the site launches.

You can do this by editing your Hosts file. By editing your Hosts file, you’re basically telling your computer, “Hey, ignore what all of the DNS caches are telling you about where to find this site. This is where you should actually look for it.”

All great and useful, but I forget how to do this every time. For future reference:

Open up Terminal (the command line) and run

sudo nano /etc/hosts

You’ll likely be prompted to enter the password for the user you have set up on your computer since sudo tells the computer to execute a command as a superuser, and it needs to make sure you’re authorized to do that. Once the command runs, the file you specified (/etc/hosts) will be opened up in the GNU nano command line text editor. Nano can be a little confusing if it’s super new to you, refer to the docs or search around, guides abound online.

There will probably be a bit of content in this file already. Some of it might be comments, text preceded by a # symbol. Don’t change the existing contents unless you know what the effect will be and you’re really sure about it!

Instead, on a new line at the base, just add a new line with the IP address you want to point to followed by the URL without the protocol (so, not

Once you’ve changed it, save the file and exit nano. When you load up the URL in a browser, you should be seeing whatever resources are available at the IP address you’ve specified. If you’re still seeing the “old” site, try loading it in a private browsing window.

Don’t forget to change it back when you’re done.


A little more on Rietveld’s crate furniture, discovering Louise Brigham’s earlier box furniture, and thoughts about the purpose of a blog

More on Rietveld’s crate furniture

Off the back of writing up the Rietveld-esque crate stool how-to, I started looking in to more about the origins of Gerrit Rietveld’s crate furniture. The best write up I’ve found is “A restorer’s blog: Pre-war crate desk by Rietveld”. It sounds like Metz & Co, the company selling much of Rietveld’s furniture, was skeptical.

“We cannot sell wood chips,” director Joseph de Leeuw had written to Rietveld.

It’s worth reading the post in full for a ton of anecdotes and context, as well as some useful comments from a master furniture restorer.

Louise Brigham’s earlier box furniture

While researching, I also came across this post which introduced me to Louise Brigham, an American designer and teacher best known for her box furniture.

Her background is one of privilege, but she seemed to wield her privilege reasonably well. She came from a comfortably wealthy Bostonian family, and her parents died in her teens. Their death, combined with family wealth, likely allowed her to buck the normal pressures on a woman living in her time. She instead pursued her creative and social ambitions.

After studying both the Pratt Institute and the Chase School of Art (now Parsons), she became involved in the settlement house movement in Cleveland, OH where she experimented with furniture made from boxes and crates. She then travelled around Europe studying craft traditions. Supposedly she visited Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh in Glasgow, which I feel you can see in some of her designs. Perhaps her most impactful time was spent in Spitzbergen, a treeless island that is part of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic where she really honed her design rational, ethos, and aesthetics.

She was prolific in the early 1900s. In 1909—over two decades before Rietveld’s crate furniture—she published Box Furniture, a book charmingly illustrated by Edward Aschermann on how to make furniture from crates. The book was reprinted multiple times and translated in to many languages.

To all who care for simplicity and thrift, utility and beauty, I send my message.

Louise Brigham, Box Furniture, p25

In the early 1910s, she set up a woodworking “laboratory” for children called the Home Thrift Association. During WWI she started one of the earliest ready-to-assemble furniture companies, Home Art Masters.

Why haven’t we heard more about her work?

For further reading on Louise Brigham, there are a few articles and books out there that look worthwhile. The article “Thinking Outside the Box: Louise Brigham’s Furniture of 1909” by Larry Weinberg published in 2009 provides a lovely introduction to Brigham and her book. See also Kevin Adkisson’s paper “Box Furniture: Thinking Outside the Box” from 2014 for much more detail on her, including her later life.

The most extensive writing on Brigham currently appears to be Antoinette LaFarge’s book Louise Brigham and the Early History of Sustainable Furniture Design. I haven’t read it, but it looks promising.

And of course, check out Brigham’s Box Furniture available to view or download for free on Love it, this book being part of the Internet Archive feels very in keeping with her vibe.

I’m planning to dig in a bit to Alice Rawsthorn’s writing. Her short article on Brigham for Maharam prompted me to look at her other articles. The list is extensive. Looking at that list, she seems to have covered so many of the women I have had some major or minor curiosity about over the past few years. See her writing on Louise Brigham, Ruth Asawa and the Alvarado School Arts Workshop in San Francisco, architect and designer Charlotte Perriand, architect Sophie Hicks and her home, Lucie Rie and her buttons, furniture and interior designer Clara Porset, Bauhaus photographer Gertrud Arndt, architect Jane Drew, interior designers Agnes and Rhoda Garrett, architect and activist Grete Lihotzky. I think I need to pick up a copy of Rawsthorn’s Design as an Attitude or Hello World: Where Design Meets Life at this point.

On a more personal note, I identified strongly with Rawsthorn’s short article on her most treasured possession for Elle Decoration. My most treasured possessions from my maternal grandmother are cookbooks and kitchen tools. Her battered plastic cake stand, a perfectly shaped spatula, a muffin tin. From her mother, it’s her quilt patterns cut from scrap cardboard and cereal boxes, and her flower drawings for embroidery. This is not to say that I don’t also cherish more traditionally precious heirlooms, it’s just that the objects with utility feel like they maybe have more of the life of the person in them.

Some thoughts after reading Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”

I finally read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”. I was reminded of it yet again while surfing around the web looking at all of the above and found a copy online.

Keepers of private notebooks are a differ­ent breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

Harsh. But probably fair.

See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write—on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there […]


We are not talk­ing here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consump­tion, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

Now this is interesting, and it sort of hits on the difference between a personal blog and a blog that feels more business-driven.

The best personal blogs I’ve come across feel like a glimpse in to someone’s personal notebook, something filled mostly with notes written with the author in mind first and foremost vs notes that have been written with a wider audience in mind. A good personal blog can (and maybe should) contain a mixture of both, since they both can be absolutely great and useful. But when it is only ever writing for an audience… well that doesn’t feel like a personal blog, to me.

It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

“It all” being moments, memories, the good and the bad.

I hope to have this site when I’m 80. I may not like some of the things I wrote 50 years prior, but at least I will be able to reacquaint myself with former me-s. I hope I don’t lose sight of this purpose.

And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

A difference between Didion’s era and now: some of my notes could help you, and yours me. Another reason that I love personal blogs. It just seems so hard to find them sometimes.

A notebook, that’s all any of this is, really.

Edited 10 May, changed “like a personal brand exercise” to “more business-driven”. The phrase “personal brand” has a lot of negative connotations, so “personal brand exercise” felt way too snarky on a re-read. Business-driven blogs by individuals are super important, and useful! They’re just different, and there’s space for all of that (and a mixture of all the above) online.


Maintenance is everything

I don’t expect most of the opinions that I hold now to have the same shape in 10, 20. years. I don’t think any of us is the same person every day, identity shifts with every tiny experience, so it’d be a silly thing to suggest or expect.

But one that I think might stick, the thing that might last if I ever wrote a manifesto: Maintenance is everything.

Bikes, physical health, mental health, roads, relationships, furniture, websites, clothing, parks, plants, sewers.

If it’s worth creating/buying/doing in the first place, it’s usually worth maintaining. And I love maintenance, fixing things, so that’s lucky! (Don’t like cleaning so much, which is another major part of physical maintenance, but I’m working on that.)

The problem is that new/shiny is a lot more lucrative than old/broken (more on this). How do we shift that mindset?


Dev environment issue related to MySQL and missing OpenSSL v1.0.0 symlink

I woke up early this morning to get some work done before a call and suddenly my local dev environment stopped working without warning and with seemingly no reason. The root issue was that MySQL wouldn’t work, /usr/local/opt/openssl/lib/libssl.1.0.0.dylib was not loading.

TL;DR: This may have been related to some automatic cleanup on Homebrew’s part. But regardless, a simple restart sorted it. If this happens again and restarting doesn’t sort it, try uninstalling and reinstalling MySQL.

The rest of the detail is below for posterity if I run in to this in the future.

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Lichens are not plants

I’ve been taking pictures of “little plants” for a little while. The most consistent aspect of this photos is that they contain lichen, sometimes moss.

Turns out a lichen is not a plant. See Wikipedia for more info but in short: “A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship.”

Ah well, still going to refer to them as little plants. But let the record show that I now know my error.


Questions and questionable answers on the blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Quick note: This post is way too long… but it felt weird to split it up considering it all came from the same burst of research, and I didn’t want to cut some of the finer details because I’m using this for reference. So apologies! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Illustration of blocks in yellow, pink, and blue

Illustration of blocks in blue, orange, and yellow

I’ve been aware of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain for a long time but have never taken a moment to dig in. Recently there’s been a lot of buzz around the blockchain amongst people I know and like. Some of these people have historically been pretty skeptical about it, as have I, so this has made me curious about what might have changed.

This is an attempt to get to the bottom of a few concepts and questions that have been lingering in my mind. It starts with a very basic attempt to describe the blockchain and crypto and then moves on to topics I’m particularly concerned about, especially energy usage, risk / legality, and the impact on the digital divide. I’m calling these answers “questionable” because I’m definitely still learning, but I’ve done enough research and thinking around it all that I’m comfortable with what I’ve written here. If you read any of this and think I’ve gotten something wrong, let me know.

I’m most interested in why non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are getting so much hype right this moment but decided to focus on the blockchain and crypto first since it forms the foundation of NFTs. A dive in to NFTs is to come separately.

Illustration of blocks in blue, yellow, and pink

What is the blockchain?

The blockchain is a way of storing data cryptographically. You can think of the term quite literally: blocks of data are chained together to form an ever-growing and nearly immutable ledger. The blockchain as we know it was invented in 2008 and was implemented for the first time with the Bitcoin protocol in 2009, creating the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

The blockchain is decentralized, meaning it isn’t stored in any one place. It is instead distributed across every different computer, or node, that has interacted with it on a particular network. The blockchain is one of many decentralized technologies, but it is more of a concept than a unique protocol such as Dat or the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) (neither use the blockchain, to be clear). There are many different blockchain protocols with different advantages.

On the blockchain, each block of data and the way it is connected to the previous block is permanent and verifiable without the need for any third-party involvement or intervention. Because of this, one of the most common applications for the blockchain that we’ve seen so far is cryptocurrency transactions and investment.

But it’s worth noting that the blockchain can be useful for much more than cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance (DeFi). I’m particularly interested in the Handshake Network, a decentralized domain name system (DNS) alternative. And the blockchain could also be used to track the supply chain to prove with 99.9% certainty that a particular product’s manufacturing didn’t involve things like child labor.

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