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January 21 2020

Train of thought

I'm on my way to Nottingham for a Kirby workshop and to attend Simon Collison's fantastic New Adventures Conference for the second time and this is my "travel diary" of a quite unusal journey.

Dear diary …

I've visited this conference for the first time in 2011 and it was a very special trip back then as well. Nottingham isn't that easy to reach from Germany. In 2011, the options to get there were even less ideal than today.

After searching for affordable flights without luck, I joined a small group of German web devs that I knew mostly from Twitter. We organised a road trip in a rental bus from Essen via Antwerp to Nottingham. It turned out to be pretty legendary.

I had the chance to hang out with Marc Thiele, Vitaly Friedman, Andreas Dantz and Stefan Nietsche for quite a while that way and I still have very fond memories of our conversations, the conference and our beer tasting in Antwerp :) The connections that we made on that trip still last today and I'm very lucky that I joined them.


Fast-forward, 9 years later:

Through many lucky accidents, Simon Collison invited me to run a workshop at this year's New Adventures and I couldn't be more excited about that. Not just about the workshop, but about finally returning to Nottingham and to New Adventures after all those years.

So here I was again in fall 2019, looking for a way to get to Nottingham.


Many things have changed in 9 years. But there's one topic that has become more relevant than everything else. We are in a climate emergency. 2010-2020 has been the hottest decade in recorded climate history. What still felt like a far-future-problem in 2011, feels very urgent today.

I have to say that I spent the last two years mostly struggling to find a way to deal with this emergency on a personal level and it's not over yet. What's my role in all of this? What can I do as a father to fight for a livable future for my kids? How do I change my own priviledged and harmful way of living? Is there even a solution or are we doomed anyway?

I felt mostly paralyzed and hopeless.

As a result, I joined FridaysForFuture protests and started to reduce my meat consumption. With Kirby, we are now providing free licenses for all climate movement projects. We joined a German initiative of companies that pledge to take action against climate change. We moved most of our servers to green hosting and will move the remaining server as well soon.

I really want to change something, but this all still feels like a tiny drip of water on a hot stone.

I'll be honest, when looking for ways to get to Nottingham this time, I started to look at flights again. Frankfurt - Birmingham or Düsseldorf - Birmingham were two viable options. One with Lufthansa, one with EasyJet. But it just felt wrong.

This is not going to be an article about how we all should stop flying. This is all about a very personal decision. I wanted to move away from arm-chair-activism this time.

The idea of taking the train instead of flying excited me. I really love trains – when they are on time and connections work. I'm also not very comfortable with flying in general. Or to put it differently: I'm very good at imagining how the plane crashs (yes, I know it's irrational)

When I started looking into train connections from my little town (Neckargemünd) to Nottingham I was pretty sure that it is going to be completely insane and that I would need to get back to a flight anyway.

It turned out that a reasonable train connection takes around 9.5 hours. I was pretty astonished. That's not that bad at all!

The flights from Frankfurt or Düsseldorf both take around 1.5 hours. When I added the train from Neckargemünd to Frankfurt or Düsseldorf, time at the airport in Germany, flight, time at the airport in the UK and the final train from Birmingham to Nottingham I ended up with around 7 hours for the trip via Frankfurt and about 8.5 hours for the trip via Düsseldorf. And suddenly the train started to look quite competitive. Especially in terms of pricing.

The flight via Düsseldorf with EasyJet was about 263 € both ways and the cheapest option.

The flight via Frankfurt with Lufthansa was 364 € both ways and the most expensive option.

The train costs 293 € both ways and is only slightly more expensive than the EasyJet option.


So here I am in the TGV from Karlsruhe to Paris EST, going at 310km/h with tons of legroom, no limit on baggage, a free seat next to me and pretty decent wifi (you hear that Deutsche Bahn?). Being in the EU (brilliant concept btw) I can use my personal hotspot without any issues if the wifi fails and it already feels quite productive in here.

Ok, let's be fair. This trip isn't as straight-forward as it seems from the paragraph above. I have to change trains 4 times. In Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Paris and London. That is an uncomfortable number of points of failure. But luckily I already passed the first two with only 15 minutes to switch trains. The next two will give me an hour each. That's an interesting fact about this trip: I spend 2.5 hours on train stations. I see room for improvement there. 7 hours from Neckargemünd to Nottingham. It's doable :)

What really shocked me are the prices and how fast the connections are from Karlsruhe to Paris (2.5 hours) and from Paris to London (1.5 hours). You can get both trips for around 39 € (one-way) if you book early. That's absolutely amazing if you ask me.


I'm not in Nottingham yet and it still might end with unpleasent surprises, but I'm already massively enjoying this guilt-free trip. It also showed me not to dismiss longer train connections too early because of length or cost. Especially for family vacations! As much as I love to hate the Deutsche Bahn for all the weird situations I had in German trains, as much do I still enjoy travelling without sitting behind the wheel or being flung in the air in a metal tube.


Are such kind of trips the solution to our climate emergency? Of course not! But I think it's time to do a few things differently than before and be more considerate about daily decisions.

I don't think that we can turn this emergency around by personal action only. It's a dangerous method by our politicians to hand over responsibility to each individual, while the big emitters can keep on with business as usual.

But I do believe in chain reactions. We are closely connected to our social bubble: our neighbours, our family and friends. We are intuitively influenced by their choices and behaviors and we influence them in the same way. We can start a chain reaction with what we do. It's not always obvious but a small shift can propagate quite far.

I have been very negative in the past months. I found it hard to see something positive in all of this and I dragged my own social bubble down with me. But I no longer wanted to be the one, who turns up with more negative news and discussions. This does not lead anywhere.

I loved a chapter in Luisa Neubauers Book "Vom Ende der Klimakrise: Eine Geschichte unserer Zukunft" about new utopias. If we want to move forward, we need positively-charged visions for our future. We need new utopias. There is no way to see a path ahead when there's no goal.

There are quite a few visions that I can instantly see and that give me hope and something to work for. Sitting in a high-speed train going through Europe one of those visions is not even that far away. A great, fast, affordable and climate friendly transport network isn't something that is totally utopian.

The world can be different.

September 18 2019

Denial

It started last spring. Something didn't feel right. It was exceptionally dry for weeks. We have a 3600-liter cistern for our small garden that was already empty. It would normally fill up from time to time and get us over the summer. But not that year. What started as a long period without rain, turned into an extremely hot summer and it just didn't stop.

You could see how the forest around us dried up, how the grass changed its color to a grayish yellow that reminded me of Southern Europe, but not Germany.

Then later in September 2018, we went camping in Portugal. Just a few weeks before, Portugal had been struck by a heatwave up to 46 degrees. We were lucky we missed that. We stayed at a campsite in central Portugal, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was incredibly beautiful but haunted by wasps. What looked like a nightmare, turned into a weird spectacle. The wasps sat on our legs, on our arms, and in our shoes, but they didn't sting. They besieged the front of our camper and followed us by the dozens when we went to fetch water. I've never seen anything like this before. We asked the owner of the campsite and he told us how the wasps are incredibly exhausted after the heatwave. They were licking our sweat, eating the dead flies from our camper and were attracted by anything that looked like water. They didn't have enough energy anymore to attack or hunt for themselves.


The empty cistern, dry forest, yellow grass or the exhausted wasps were by no means scientific evidence for climate change. I have no scientific background at all. They were personal triggers though. For the first time in my life, I was deeply worried by the heat and drought.

All of this was accompanied by more and more bad news from climate scientists from all over the world. Greta Thunberg started her first school strike in Stockholm. I began to read and learn more about it and I felt worse and more hopeless every day.


I thought that the summer of 2018 is a tipping point though. With the school strikes, there was a new form of attention. I was sure that from now on more people will follow and understand what's really happening and eventually enough politicians will follow as well.

But while kids and students around the world kept on striking and fighting for their future, the rest of the world seemed to move on. Like this is just another minor crisis we can shake off.

Global temperatures: 1850-2018

And yet, 2019 brought more horror scenarios. The fires in the Arctic, the Amazon, Australia, and Indonesia.

What seemed to be a crisis of the future is a crisis of today. We are right in the middle.

Let's put in a joke from Twitter to lift the mood: "Many say that this is the hottest summer in the last 100 years. But I prefer to think positive: this is probably the coolest summer in the next 100 years."

(Sorry, I can't find the source anymore)


But with all the evidence around us, why are we acting like everything will be alright? It won't be alright this time.

I've collected some of the reactions you can see and hear online and offline all the time:

  • Climate change isn't real
  • Climate change is real but will pass by
  • Climate change is real but it's exaggerated and Greta is an alarmist
  • Climate change won't affect us because …
    • … it's too far in the future
    • … we live in a pretty cool part of the world
    • … we live in a pretty wealthy part of the world
  • We will be able to fix climate change in time because …
    • … someone will invent a technical solution soon
    • … we also fixed the ozone hole
    • … politicians will fix it
    • … some god will fix it
    • … someone else will fix it
  • I can't do anything about climate change anyway because …
    • … we are just a small part of the world
    • … it has to be solved by our politicians and not by me
    • … it's too expensive
    • … I like the way I'm living right now and don't want to change
    • … it's already too late so YOLO
  • I want to do something but …
    • I don't know what to do
    • I can't afford it
    • I don't have the time
  • We are humans. We are superior to any other lifeform and we will adjust to any kind of change. Let's just buy an AC.
  • I'm quite excited to see how humanity ends

All of those reactions, wether serious or not, are just a form of denial. It's too tough to accept that our way of living is no longer working out.

I see this in myself. While being deeply worried, I'm also petrified. I don't know what to do. My commitment to change hasn't gone far enough yet. I'm part of the problem. I see my kids and want a healthy world for them. I want them to grow old without worrying. But I'm also stuck in my privileged way of living. Just one more steak, one more trip with the car, one more cheap purchase online. How bad can my impact be? After all, the system around me has to change. But that's just another excuse. I'm aware of that and I'm willing to do more than I'm currently doing. I often just feel lost.

There are no simple solutions. Radical change is hard. But it's necessary this time. This crisis won't just go away if we simply wait until all students lost their energy to protest.

The more the world around us tumbles into chaos, the more we look for simple solutions. We see those large political shifts to the right in many parts of the world. The right is very good at providing simple answers to complex problems. When they can't blame them on somebody else or pretend they don't exist, they look backward to find their solutions. "We've always done it like this. It's perfectly fine to keep on doing it that way." Trying to preserve the status quo is a human instinct. Change always carries risk. It's easy to fall for their agenda if you don't want to think or act too much yourself.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking seems to erode many parts of our society. The political center here in Germany is using the same methods less radically. Stick with the status quo as long as possible and as long as it is profitable.

I often wonder if we manage to turn around fast enough before it's too late. The clock is ticking relentlessly and there's not much time left.

Sometimes I try to imagine the future in ten years from now. What happens when each year from now on will be as hot and dry as the last years – or even worse?

Looking at Western Europe: What will happen to our agriculture? To our vegetation? To our water supplies? Can we handle all of that?

Looking at the world: What happens when the wildfires around the world return and increase every year? More CO2 will get emitted, more Methane released.

Many people say we've already reached a tipping point this year. I'm not a scientist. I cannot put all of this into a realistic perspective. Everything I read sounds like a doomsday scenario.

Is this an alarmist way of thinking? Too negative? I hope so. I wish I'll look back in ten years from now and realize that it wasn't that dramatic after all. Maybe we found a way to adjust. Maybe we started to accept reality and changed our way of living.

But there's also a good chance that we will look back at today with anger and despair and wish we weren't so ignorant back then.

It's time to wake up.


Join me at the Global Climate Strike this Friday, September 20th, 2019!
I will be taking part in Heidelberg.

September 10 2019

Simplicity (II)

Once in a while, I have to fix small issues in very old projects. Some of my client sites from more than a decade ago are still around. One could argue that they probably should have been re-launched three times since. But it's also quite nice to enter the time machine.

There are two eras of those projects: pre-built-process and and post-build-process. Whenever there's no package.json I know it's going to be a good day. Whenever there's one, Pandora is coming along the way with her fucking box.

When you ever had to fix just a few lines of CSS and it took two hours to get an ancient version of Gulp up and running, you know what I'm talking about.

Yes, I know, there's Docker and if you are a real professional you would put everything in containers. But don't ever tell me that this is making your life as easy as editing a plain HTML or CSS file.


We've come a long way as web developers. We have wonderful tools that help us optimize, prettify, test, deploy and scale our work in seconds and it's great.

Working on Kirby, we use quite a lot of those tools. We rely heavily on Git and Github, we use the Vue cli with Webpack in the background to build our Panel, PHPcs and ESlint to enforce the same coding style throughout the team, PHPUnit, Jest and Cypress.io with Travis CI to test our code, Coveralls.io to analyze our test coverage. We auto-deploy our site whenever changes are pushed to master. etc. etc.

When everything works, it feels like magic. When something breaks, it's hell.

The amount of time and knowledge that you need to have to setup such tools and services and to keep them up and running is insane.

Yes, they save a lot of time once they are working. If you don't touch them they are probably stable for a while. But I never learned to love them in all those years. It's more like a love-hate relationship, slightly tilted to hate.


There are a few major issues I have with modern web dev tooling:

Dependency Hell A - Code

I can never get over the fact that the most "simple" build process setup comes with 120 petabyte of node_modules. No matter if you want to "just" convert your Sass to CSS or optimize some images.

I have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to programming:

less code === less potential issues

This rule of thumb controls my own feelings towards a solution. It shouldn't take 120 MB of code to uglify some JS. But maybe I'm wrong.

In practice, this dependency hell has bitten me so often already that my life expectancy probably sank by 2-3 years. You want to build a JS file? Please update Webpack first. Oh, that new version of Webpack is no longer compatible with your Node version. Oh, your new Node version is no longer compatible with that other dependency. Oh, now you have 233 detected security issues in all your node_modules but you can't fix them because that would break something completely unrelated.

It's a UX nightmare and I haven't found a single exception yet. Vue Cli or Parcel are the most positive examples, where positive means: not as horrible as the rest.

This dependency hell is also the reason why old projects are almost like sealed capsules. You can hardly let a project lie around for more than a year, because afterwards it's probably broken.

Dependency Hell B - Services

How do you make money in a world of open-source projects? SaaS! It all starts nice and simple: Github free plan, Algolia free plan, Travis CI free plan, ZeitHQ free plan, Netlify free plan, Azure free plan, Firebase free plan, etc. etc.

But all of them share the same goal. They want to lure you in and then convert you to their paid plans. That's the only way for them to make money. The free plans are sponsored by their investors or the high margins of their paid plans.

When you start using services like Firebase it becomes instantly clear that you lock yourself in. The more time you invest, the harder it gets to move away from them one day. The more painful it gets if they ever shut down.

Other services are more subtle. With Github you only realize the dependency if you build your community there and it starts to grow. If you leave, you basically loose the community. With Github Actions they now try to add another layer of customer glue.

With services like Algolia it gets massively painful if you grow out of the free plan or jump to the next tier.

Netlify and Zeit have the same issue and also try to bind you with their attractive additional features that are exclusive to them.

The more you bind a project to a certain service, the harder it can backfire later. The longevity of a project is suddenly in the hand of another player and you have to play by their rules. When they decide to change the way their service works, you have to adjust to that.

The comfort that they provide comes at a high price. All those services look simple on the outside, but they all come with complex related issues and potential risks.


We love to talk about simplicity. "Simple" is probably one of the most overused words in our industry. Not only in documentation.

Is something really "simple" if you have to be an experienced developer before being able to use it?

Is something really "simple" if the best case scenario works great, but whenever it fails you are stuck for hours?

Is something really "simple" when you are cosily wrapped in an over-engineered blanket that comes at a high price once you need to unwrap yourself?


Talking about simplicity, I made the comparison on Twitter between a headphone jack and a bluetooth connection.

Modern web dev tools and services are like AirPods. It's fantastic to get rid of the cable. The experience is far better 95% of the times. But they also have connection issues from time to time, they are massively over-engineered, expensive and you can easily loose them.

Bluetooth headphones are likely the future. But I still have more love for a set of standard headphone with a regular cable and headphone jack that has been working reliably for decades.

I just have to put this over-used quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery here again:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Yes, we have new possibilities to solve problems. But sometimes it might make sense to take a step back and ask ourselves if something that has already been solved needs to be solved again – but more complex this time.


As always, such questions are very personal. It depends. If you are in a team, your priorities are completely different than for someone who works alone. Big teams have different problems than small teams. Your project might not need to be around for years or decades etc.

It's important though to reflect on what we are doing. It's as important to reflect what affects the user. They don't care about our issues behind the curtains.

When we talk about the time that modern tools save us, we also need to be honest. How much time do they save us today and how much time might they cost us later?


I personally try to take such time-machine rides as lessons.

We face the same problems with Kirby. We try to keep it "simple" but is it really simple? What are the true obstacles for beginners. What are the pain points for our users when something breaks? How can we take care of such situations and make sure nobody gets stuck for hours? And what happens when you need to maintain a Kirby site in 5 or 10 years from now? Can we somehow help to make this easy? Is it even made to last that long? How can we avoid that our users are locked in? Etc.

All those questions are important to me, because they are the qualities that I appreciate in software myself.


I wrote about simplicity in a similar fashion five years ago. That's why this article is called Simplicity (II). This topic never really gets old to me as it seems :) http://bastianallgeier.com/notes/simplicity

May 17 2019

Back from the dead

I killed my personal site in May 2018.

It was the GDPR month of horror. Dozens of old clients approached me to help them get their privacy policies online. I was knee-deep into getting our own privacy policy for Kirby ready with our lawyer and everything just felt like shit.

Instead of caring for my own site, I simply switched it off. I set up a redirect to the Kirby website, but later the SSL certificate expired and I couldn't even be bothered to fix that.

It's kind of ironic, when you are working full-time on a content management system and you talk about the IndieWeb for years, but at the same time you can't even get your shit together and run your own website.

Looking back, my dead website was a reflection of how I felt about my profession. It was a low point in my career. I was extremely frustrated by the state of the web. The work for Kirby 3 was absolutely overwhelming. It should have launched by then already. Everything felt exhausting and broken. The GDPR chaos was just the final cut.

Killing it was almost like taking a break from the web. For the longest time I felt lost afterwards. The work on Kirby kept me up and I'm glad about that. But the digital loneliness that Tobias describes in his article was all around me.


Fast-forward to today: This week, I attended beyond tellerrand. This conference has always played a big part in my career. It gave me the necessary push in the right direction so many times before. I can't exactly say what it is. It's not a particular talk or topic or conversation. It's the sum of all of that.

Maybe it's just me, but there was a special mood in the crowd this time. More cheering when speakers entered the stage. More clapping after each talk. I don't really know. Maybe I'm just projecting here.

At the very end, Tantek entered the stage and spoke about taking back the web. There were no surprises in this talk. He summarized the catastrophic situation of the social web and introduced IndieWeb ideas as a possible solution. And yet, this talk gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

There's a pretty clear message in my head since then: the web is not lost. The friendships are not lost. The positivity and excitement that we once all had is not lost. It's time for a new beginning.

October 10 2016

Bullet Journal

After years of hunting the perfect solution to be and stay productive, I think I finally may have found it: a bullet journal

Productivity is such a huge topic and such a personal one. I was on a roller coaster over the last years. Weeks of tremendous energy, motivation and productivity were followed by weeks in deep holes without getting anything done at all.

I tried all sorts of todo apps and techniques. The most promising technique was pomodoro for quite a while. But nothing really stuck or helped me overcome the deep valleys.

Then I read about bullet journals a couple months ago and was intrigued. I loved the idea to move away from digital tools and get back to good old pen and paper. It was also a good chance to finally make use of some of the notebooks I had collected over the years, but which lay unused in a drawer.

What is a bullet journal?

bullet-journal

The basic idea of a bullet journal is to log todos, events and notes for each day in a very simple and fast way. You focus on the current day and write down all the stuff you need to get done or you need to remember. Todos get marked with a dot, events get marked with a circle, notes get marked with a dash. Important stuff gets marked with an additional asterisk. I won't go further into details here, because the bullet journal website has some really great docs and there's also a video:

Why does it work?

There are various points, that make a bullet journal special for me.

I think the most essential aspect really is the fact that it is not in my computer. Writing things down by hand needs more concentration. It's a more conscious form of storing your thoughts.

Every morning, I sit down with my bullet journal and focus on what I need to get done and need to remember. I don't stare into my screen. I don't get dragged away by Twitter or emails. I just sit there for a couple minutes and make myself aware of what's going to happen in the next few hours.

During the day, I write down every new event or todo immediately, which has the same effect of focusing on it once more. It helps to take a short break and recap the priority of each open point on your list.

While almost every todo app hides the finished tasks, the bullet journal leaves a quite beautiful and satisfying overview of each day. About a year ago, I used an app called I done this which basically does the same. I often suffer from the illusion that I achieved nothing. Every day seems super short and wasted with lots of tasks, which distract me from the things I really wanted to get done. The bullet journal helps me to get past this. Having written down all the tasks during the day and seeing that list in the evening is the best way to switch off and be happy with my day's work.

Breaking your todo list down into days, makes it feel much more manageable. I didn't have a single day in the last three months when I felt overwhelmed by my work.

According to the bullet journal concept, open tasks need to be moved onto the next day manually. This seems extremely redundant and annoying at first.

But writing down the same task over and over again is a fantastic way to show you how embarrassingly lazy you are or how unimportant a task actually might be. It might not work for everyone, but it sure does for me.

Finally, I think it's the format. The first couple pages have been horrible. My handwriting was a nightmare. But it really started to improve. I now enjoy the process of manually writing again and I absolutely love to see the results. I can't tell exactly what it is, but it's so much more satisfying to open a notebook with dozens of handwritten pages. It's a constant reminder of all the stuff I got done in the last weeks and months. It has become really, really precious to me.

I already ordered five more notebooks in the same format from the same company to make sure that I get a decent series — yes, that's the design nerd in me. I started the second book two weeks ago and it felt so great to start with a fresh book and have some decent handwriting in there right from the start.

I also love that it becomes more and more individual. The bullet journal concept is quite open. It offers modules and methods, which you can use, but you don't have to if it doesn't fit. There are also tons of videos on Youtube from bullet journal users, who describe their favorite ways to track stuff.

For example for the second book I decided that I don't need a future log. But instead I have developed my own way of creating a monthly and weekly overview.

I also started to create additional marks and symbols, which I use to highlight certain tasks and events, which is a lot of fun.

I'm looking forward to the next book filling up and I know that the system is going to improve with me over time, which is exciting.

The last three months with my bullet journal have been very rewarding and I feel more reliable and more in control.

If you want to give it a try as well, I really recommend to give it time. The advantages show after a week and become even more obvious after a month.

@bastianallgeier

October 04 2016

Pressure

I follow the battles between developer guilds for quite a while and now and then I post my own snarky remarks on Twitter about the latest JS frameworks to join the club.

It's too easy to get dragged into grumpy-mode these days. Articles like the satire about How it feels to learn JavaScript in 2016 help to release some steam from the ever growing pressure of newer, better, faster, slicker, tools, frameworks, libraries and other toys. But you have to be careful not to get too frustrated and angry.

An article, which made me very much aware of this again, is by one of my personal web heros: David DeSandro.

In the end it's all about what works for you. What is the best, fastest and most stable tool to transfer your ideas from your brain, via your fingers, into your keyboard and finally into your computer? "Best", "fastest", "most stable" are terms which are highly subjective here. They depend on various circumstances.

For me personally, I found that I get faster and better, the more I know about the tools I am using. This sounds like Captain Obvious. But I compare a programming language with an instrument. I play guitar for 23 years and I'm far from truly mastering it. But I play well enough, not to think about how to play, while I'm playing. I can improvise, let my fingers fly over the fretboard and just let my creativity flow. It took many many years to get there and still I know that it I will never stop learning with this instrument.

I learned coding the hard way by trial and error, pretty much like I learned how to play guitar. I always felt that every hour is moving me forward — even after years. It's all about practicing.

As a designer, I wasn't really confident with my coding skills for a very long time. I still often get this feeling of missing some "real" knowledge in this area. Especially, when I read about the latest and greatest trends in web development, I feel like a fraud, like someone who will never be a "real" developer.

But at some point I realized, that coding is like making music. The more you practice, the better you get and the more freedom you gain to express your creativity. True magic happens in music, when you get skilled enough to translate your ideas and emotions directly into notes. True magic happens in programming, when you are fast enough to translate your ideas into code as well.

I definitely gained more confidence in my own work over the years. But I realized that this necessarily means for me that I have to focus on a certain set of languages, tools and ways to write code. Pretty much like I decided more than 20 years ago, that the guitar is my instrument.

I am fast and efficient in PHP, I'm comfortable with HTML and CSS and I can express my ideas in JavaScript when I stick to the bad j word. Those tools, combined with my design background, give me the opportunity to let me be creative and I am more than happy with that.

For me, it's like focusing on being a good Metal lead guitarist with a decent amount of Blues and some Jazz background.

But before you start yelling "you have to leave your comfort zone!" here's the point:

JS-Fatigue, framework-fatigue, tool-fatigue or whatever flavor of fatigue, is caused by uncertainty. Once you find your comfort zone of instruments, which you know how to play well and you are able to express your creativity, the existential pressure to find something better stops.

This doesn't mean that you stop evolving. As a musician you are always looking for new ways to improve your style. A new scale, new chord progressions, new musical influences or new intonation techniques. It's the same with design or code. If we stop moving, we die. But we don't have to jump all the time.

Maybe in a next life I can be a good drummer. But I already found my happiness in being a guitarist. This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy playing drums from time to time or maybe even piano.

Nowadays I really find peace in the process of playing with new frameworks, libraries and tools. They massively influence my own work. But I also learned to resist the urge, to replace my comfort zone every other week, as long as it is not absolutely necessary. I like to get inspired but then return to the good old stuff and just keep on building and being happy.

@bastianallgeier

June 20 2015

Spoken words

There's a "startup" idea, I'm carrying with me for quite a while. This tweet by Tobias Tom convinced me to finally write a bit about it.

I love audio books and I love podcasts. It's a rather young love. I'm a late-bloomer when it comes to audio content. Unfortunately I find very little time to sit down and read lately. Especially after work and spending time with the family, I am often too tired to read a book in bed and that's pretty sad.

But with audio books or podcasts you can fill all sorts of gaps during the day with a similar experience and easily sidetrack your thoughts or learn something new. I started listening to podcasts and books on my way to the office, while running or non-challenging coding and it's wonderful.

On the web I come across tons of fantastic articles each day, but I have to skip way too many or quickly skim them.

There's so much knowledge available online these days and no way to keep on top of it at all. What I'd really love to have is a service that I can pay for to get good audio versions of high quality articles on the web.

Listeners would bookmark articles to be read by professional readers and voice actors. You'd pay per article or a monthly fee. Payments would be shared amongst all readers depending on the reading time of the submitted articles. The more articles are being listened to, the more budget for additional articles. There could be some kind of quality levels. Articles read by really good readers would cost more than from "hobbyist" readers and of course the payment would be different as well. A bigger group of hobbyist readers could provide faster access to the most recent articles, when there are no professional versions yet — a bit like SD and HD for videos. A good review system for articles and readers would be crucial.

Audio versions could be embedded for free below the original article as long as the article is licensed under a creative commons or non-commercial open-source license. For professional publishers the service would offer an enterprise service, that adds an additional revenue stream to the platform.

It's a pretty rough concept and I'm just putting it out there in case…

a) someone has already built something like that and I missed it — make sure to let me know.
b) someone wants to build it — please do!

@bastianallgeier

May 10 2015

Indie Web

While being a designer/developer still feels like the most fulfilling thing I can currently imagine as a job, the last 14 years of being a freelancer in this industry brought quite some low times in which I wasn't sure if this is something I could do forever.

Especially the last two years threw up a lots of doubts mostly connected to the miserable state of the web.

But this weekend brought a new motivational high that I didn't expect to go that far. I attended the Indie Web Camp in Düsseldorf, Germany and I'm simply blown away. Actually so blown away that I had to return to the hotel pretty early and write this article.

I know about the indie web movement for quite some time, but never really had a chance to dive deeper. So this weekend was the perfect occasion to learn about all the concepts and possibilities that the indie web group is working on for more than four years now.

It's a movement that looks interesting but at the same time kind of geeky from the outside and unfortunately not too many people in our industry really seem to know what's behind it.

At the core of the indie web is the frustration of big silos taking control of each and every aspect of our digital lives and the wish to get back control again. It's all about practical methods to run your own site and publish your content there in the first place.

What I love most about it is, that it's not dogmatic but pragmatic. Indie web camps are not endless theoretical discussions but actually about building solutions and solving problems together. The concepts circle around the idea of how to keep control of our content while still being able to stay connected with people on Facebook, Twitter and Co.

One of the core principal is called POSSE – Publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere.

The basic idea is to post articles, images, check-ins or similar typical updates on your own site first and then from there on let your site share it for you on all kinds of social networks and platforms. So while you keep control of your original content you can still benefit from being better connected on those platforms or by the reach that you create with such posts there.

While this is the most pure indie web approach it can also work the other way around. Post an update on Twitter first – because Tweetbot is a really nice app for example – but then make sure it gets pulled back to your server and stored there as well. It's basically all about making yourself independent from those services while you still use them. Whenever they should change in a way you don't like or even shut down entirely, you would not be affected by it, as all your content would still be available on your site.

Around those principles there are a couple of very nice building blocks that you can already use in order to get this working.

One of the more known concepts are webmentions. The success of social networks is all about communication and interaction. When you share something on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram you get an instant effect out of it. You can see how people pay attention and that's what makes it worth it. With our own sites there's hardly anything comparable other than comments. While a like or a retweet is a very short and instant form of acknoledgement, comments have moved further and further into the off for taking too much effort and often being abused for spamming or really low quality conversations. Additionally comments and posts on different sites are entirely disconnected from each other, while everything on social networks is tightly interweaved.

This is where webmentions shine. They bring all the benefits of a central feed of likes and responses in a very decentralized and even more global way.

I've written a webmentions plugin for Kirby over the weekend and so whenever I write an article here, Kirby will check for links in my post, try to find out if the linked sites support webmentions and if yes let them know that I've mentioned them. They can then show my mention below their article or post. It's basically like the old trackback/pingback system, but much more flexible and modern. So this system can be used for all kinds of mentions. A mention can be a like, a full reply or a retweet/repost and with tools like bridgy it's already pretty easy to hook this up to mentions, favorites and retweets on Twitter or Likes and comments on Facebook, Google+ or Instagram.

Of course I've also added a webmention endpoint to the plugin so my site can receive webmentions as well and display them below my posts. You can find a pretty extensive example on the webmention test article and hopefully soon below this article when someone likes it.

Similar plugins are available or in the making for Wordpress, ProcessWire, Drupal, Typo3 and other content management systems. There's even a solution for static site generators and static sites in general.

What I love so much about this is the potential. With just a bit of polish, pretty much any public web page can feel as fully connected and vibrant as a post on a walled social network and people can instantly react on it on their own site or on Twitter, Facebook and Co.

That connection between both worlds is simply brilliant and in my opinion makes it worth investing more time and thought. It's not just another concept that tries to replace existing platforms, which is supposed to fail anyway.

I could go on four hours about the other great indie web concepts, such as IndieAuth to simplify authentication, micropub to standardize publishing endpoints, services like OwnYourGram which sends your Instagram photos to your site in realtime and more.

The camp has opened up an entire new world to me and I can't wait to spend more time on integrating indie web components into Kirby.

I really hope that more people start to follow the ideas and help to make it grow and polish the user experience around it. The indie web group could definitely need more interaction designers to make it shine equally on a visual level (hint, hint)

I'm super thankful for the new motivational kick in the ass after this weekend and I can't wait for the next camp!

I will update the docs for the plugin in the next days and hope you will have fun with it. Make sure to let me know if you got any questions: mail@bastianallgeier.com

@bastianallgeier

April 09 2015

Smart devices

My name is Bastian and I am an addict.

I confess that I spend too much time with my smart phone. More time than I actually want to spend with it.

It often reminds me of my time as a smoker. In the end of my "smoking career" I smoked more unnecessary cigarettes than necessary – if you can call it that way at all.

I remember how often I found myself with a cigarette in my hand that had nothing to do with enjoyment but everything with habit and boredom. Being disgusted about myself and my lack of self-control finally helped me quit smoking.

I'm trying to get away from my smart phone for quite a while and I have to say that I find it more difficult.

I still remember watching that legendary keynote in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced. This is going to change everything, I thought, and it did.

Owning an iPhone left no excuses not to reply to emails or tweets or any other notifications and messages within a couple minutes. The internet has no opening hours. There's no time to relax and in order to stay professional you have to keep up or drown — I thought.

Just a couple weeks ago I disabled all my email accounts on my phone, deleted my support app for Kirby, deleted Tweetbot and just tried using that damn phone as a phone. It felt good for a while and then the feeling of being disconnected kicked back in. I could have possibly missed something important. I keep telling myself such stuff, but I know it's a lie.

Always being available and online doesn't make you more productive or reliable. Personally it even did the opposite to me. I'm often less focused, more distracted and it didn't help me a bit to be more professional.

If I could focus on using my phone for personal communication with my wife, family and friends, it would be all fine. But somehow I can't.

Just like the many unnecessary cigarettes, there are too many unnecessary moments with my smart phone.

It disconnects me from real events around me. I'm annoyed, often frustrated and even afraid to miss important parts of my real life just because of it. Every other day I just want to throw it out the window. I don't like the way it controls me.

A love relationship has turned into a nasty habit or maybe even an addiction. I want to get over it as much as I wanted to quit smoking. I know that it's just a matter of time and discipline now.

Of course this is all very much personal. Maybe I've already started to become a grumpy old man, frustrated with the latest and greatest consumer technology. But I can say one thing for sure: after just seven years with a smart phone I want less personal smart devices in my life, not more.

@bastianallgeier

February 24 2015

¯\\_(ツ)_/¯

1984 is here but we move on with our daily routines. Who cares anyway? Our hard drives are manipulated: boring. Our SIM cards are being hacked: yawn. Smart TVs record private conversations and send them to a third party service for analysis: so what? Do you even remember that Snowden guy?

Someone recently said to me he doesn't want to think too much about it, because he prefers to stay happy. Ok, that's how you can handle it. Just accept it and move on as if nothing ever happened. It's definitely easier. At least you are not that weirdo, who's no longer on Facebook. People don't like complainers. People don't like negativity.

The moment we stop caring, everything is lost. Unimaginable things happened because people didn't give a shit. Don't just shrug it off.

@bastianallgeier

December 03 2014

Wikipedia for news

I'm carrying this around with me for quite some time. Why is there no Wikipedia for news? Well, actually there is, but it's just a sad try to replicate the idea of Wikipedia and apply it to news.

The biggest issue with news is trust. Which news source is in all their subjectivity the most objective one, which information is based on solid research and which is just simply made up?

News publishers try to sell their network of reporters and their decades of experience in trustworthy research work as their USP, but we all know that none of their claims make them actually truly independent or objective.

The web on the other hand has turned billions of people into reporters over night through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. None of those people are independent or objective either, but together they build a greater picture, which through the mass of data is often closer to objectivity than anything else. Close enough that even old-school news agencies start to use them as a source for their own reports.

But while the web has turned the news world up-side-down from the reporters end, we still would need to read thousands of articles across the web, scroll through endless Twitter and Facebook streams and browse millions of photos on Instagram, Flickr and what not, if we at least wanted to try capture this bigger picture — and we'd need to repeat this for each and every news story. So basically we are stuck with what we find on the surface and with all the connected bias.

Wikipedia has become a pretty solid source for all the knowledge, human mankind has gathered so far. But where's the place to go to if I want to really know what's happening on Earth right now?

If I could make a wish, the news would somehow work like this:

Someone: "Hey have you heard about the protests in country xy?"

Me: "No I haven't! Wait a second…"

I'm fetching my smartphone and open https://wikipediafornews.org

On the homepage of that site is a simple search field with the option to add your location. Alternatively you can go and scroll through a list of news from the last week. They can be filtered and sorted by factors like distance from your location, actuality, coverage, visits, positivity and more.

The news about the protests is pretty high on top because of massive recent coverage from various sources world wide.

I click on the headline and get to the dedicated page for this news event. It starts with a general headline, which is being discussed, selected and regularly updated by the community of editors. It's just an entry for the page and directly followed by a list of headlines of the most linked / shared articles of news agencies covering the same event. This list can be expanded into a nice overview of all available headlines from articles around the world. The list is automatically translatable into your current language or English. Headlines in that list are also sortable by negativity or positivity in their wording, which is being analyzed by an algorithm.

Right after checking the various headlines, which give me a first impression what is actually going on and which already show some different perspectives, I scroll further down to a list of graphs and figures about this news event.

First is a map, to display where the protests actually take place. I can zoom in to get an idea of the surroundings.

The next graph shows the coverage timeline. It's clearly visible when the first reports about the protests appeared and how the number of mentions worldwide throughout various sources increased.

Further down you can find a graph showing the numbers of protesters mentioned from major news stations, newspapers and also from mentions on Twitter and Facebook. A big highlighted average is shown next to that graph, so you can instantly get an idea how many people actually took part in the protests.

Videos are following, sorted by relevance. Relevance is indicated by views, by quality, by trustability and many other factors and constantly discussed and updated.

Images are shown. Those with location data that match the actual region, where the protests take place are coming first. They are sorted again by various factors and constantly discussed. You can follow all the data behind the sorting decisions and also the discussions at any time.

Like on Wikipedia, the origins of all edits are visible. This makes sure that you can spot edits from political organizations or other biased sources. A "backside" page exists for each news, which displays the ongoing discussions and editing history.

An algorithm tries to instantly deliver relevant excerpts of all linked articles and mentions in social networks, which can then be reviewed by editors as well. When an excerpt is changed it has to be a 100% quote of the source to be displayed at all. Excerpts are combined with basic facts about each article/mention: the number of words, the percentage of negative and positive wordings, the author, etc.

Authors get their own profile as well, as any news sources. You find additional numbers and background information there when available and get a pretty good overview of older articles and facts coming from those authors or sources, including relations to political parties, how are they funded, etc.

Last but not least all this is backed with references to background information about the region, people, religion, older conflicts, political parties and anything else that helps to build a bigger picture of the event.

Anyone can become a contributor to such news pages. Wikipedia gets its trustworthiness from the transparency behind the platform and thousands of editors, who often lead endless discussions about the tiniest edits, which might hurt that trustworthiness. Only such a mass of editors and the possibility to follow all decisions all the time, make it possible to get at least an approximation to objectivity.

Combined with data from as many news sources as possible, this could form the bigger picture we regular try to somehow find ourselves. Such a platform might not stop us from reading what we actually want to read, but it could help to become more open and reveal some of the bias we get delivered in the news daily.

It's a rather utopian idea. I admit that I haven't thought this through and there are many unanswered questions. Wikipedia constantly struggles for donations. Such a platform would need to be based on a similar open and independent way of funding, which is probably one of the trickiest parts about it. How would you deal with a mass of new editors coming from a single political party or religious group? How fast would news publishers realize the competition and start to shut down access to basic articles and information? How huge would the technical effort be to gather all the needed data? Would such a platform ever have a chance to get enough traction to gather the needed amount of editors at all to keep it running on a daily basis?

Those are just a couple superficial questions without even getting to the core and still I believe that we need a better way to display what is actually happening around us. We should not only be able to collect relevant information and news globally together through the web, we should also have a place to analyze our news together and not just accept what we are being served.

Please feel free to reply to this on Twitter if you have any kind of thoughts or comments.

@bastianallgeier

August 29 2014

post post-privacy

I saw the Mailbox beta launch the other day and felt this urge to get on board. I was excited like in the old days when new apps and services made me nervous like a little kid before christmas. But somewhere deep inside it didn't feel true anymore.

I stopped my "early-adopter career" long ago. I sign up for new things here and there if they really seem to make sense, but after I deleted more than 40 accounts over the last months I felt that I'm really over it.

So how the hell did Mailbox get me excited? I liked the coins, I liked the slick interface and I was once more forced by the pressure to join the hype on Twitter — I am weak.

It took exactly three minutes until the excitment was over. The app opened for the first time, I dropped in my beta coin, I saw the signup screen for Dropbox and then the one for Gmail and iCloud and it was gone. I was aware that Mailbox is run by Dropbox now. What did I even think? I don't know. Maybe some spark of hope that it might be different.

I've never seen the app launch actually. I deleted it before signing up.

I still see people trying to get rid of their beta coins on Twitter. It somehow seems that either the possible market for Mailbox beta users is already saturated or not too many people are really interested. I saw only two or three people talking about the app itself. Of course this is not representative. I don't follow enough people to write a scientific essay here. But it's enough to make a statement about my gut feeling.

I think the era of apps like Mailbox is over — or soon to be over. I'm not talking about Email. I'm talking about the post-privacy era, the startup bubble, the Silicon Valley posse.

When I look around, everything speaks against my statement. All the demons we came up with over the last years have now reached a mass-market. It's very hard to imagine that they will ever go away again.

But when the attitude of an entire industry starts to change, everything is possible and that has begun. It was cool to be a part of the startup hype, like it was cool to have a fixie in your living room. It was cool to believe in a post-privacy era. It doesn't matter if there is no visible change yet. It's important that there are more and more people who don't think it's cool anymore. This will result in new ideas, new concepts and it will inevitabely change the way we think about the web, business, privacy and sustainability. Every movement has a counter-movement. What will reach a mass-market tomorrow is being decided today.

we-are-here @bastianallgeier

August 26 2014

v2

I'm working on Kirby 2 for almost two years now. It started as a small wish to make the first version a bit better and has become a major personal effort, which takes all my time and concentration.

It's no longer about iterating over the first version. I'm under constant pressure to keep up with expectations. I received some really great feedback for Kirby so far and I'm afraid to fail.

I once failed with Zootool because I wanted too much and that almost happened to me during the last two years with Kirby as well. I started to convert my little baby, which people seem to like for being small and focused, into a gigantic monster.

It took me quite a while to realize that and it took even longer to revert my mistakes and remove lots and lots of things I've already added.

I'm at a point now that I start to feel comfortable about the next version — comfortable is the wrong term. I feel less ashamed about it.

Many great things are in there and yet I'm simply afraid that it might not be good enough.

I have a launch date in mind and anxiety is building up. I'm peeing my pants when I think about the launch. I can't wait and don't want that day to come at the same time.

I remember that I had a similar feeling when I launched Kirby 1. The web is brutal. You publish something you put thought and passion into and then the wolves come and take it apart.

But at the same time there's nothing better than getting it out there.

T - 1 Month

@bastianallgeier

August 14 2014

Trends

Just like the ebb and flow, trends in webdesign come and go. Some of them set the foundation for future trends, some are just one-hit wonders.

Butterflies following the mouse, scroll effects, textures, shadows, rounded corners, bubbly buttons, bouncy animations, cards, material design — the list goes on forever.

All trends follow the same path. You can feel them coming. You follow them until the first 10 ways how to… list appears. Then you witness their decay.

Half a year later your first client asks for them.

@bastianallgeier

August 11 2014

The quest

When I started learning how to write code, I always wondered why there are thousands of books on how to get started or being a master, but nothing in between. It's a bit like those two-step How to draw… jokes, which start with a circle and end with an entire hand in step two.

It seems that overcoming the intermediate state is some strange initiation ritual. It's the unwritten law of programming that every novice has to fight their own way through the toughest riddles without any help. To further punish the beginners, the road is plastered with trolls trying to tell them with every step they take that they are doing it wrong and to insist to switch to tabs, another programming language, framework or editor.

After more than ten years on this quest I'm going to reveal a deadly secret. There's no end, no inner circle to reach, no elite to be a part of.

Being able to become a master is an illusion. It's a trick to keep you going. The books on how to be a master are just snapshots of the authors' current positions on the same quest.

In fact those who really think they've reached the end are doomed to become trolls and hunt down novices until the end of days.

@bastianallgeier

July 08 2014

Simplicity

At this year's beyond tellerrand Stephen Hay was giving a talk which influenced my last two months significantly. He was speaking about simplicity. Since this talk I'm haunted by a single thought:

Start a new project as simple as it can get and only add things if you really need them.

Sounds pretty obvious, right? But we forgot how this works a long time ago. We live in boilerplate and packagemanager land. We have a tool and grunt task for everything and beat the tiniest piece of CSS to death with SASS. Everything has to be based on a framework and we spend more time arguing about which framework it has to be than actually writing code.

Do you remember the days when you opened a text editor, hacked a couple lines of HTML and CSS and published it via FTP?

When I started studying design it was all about learning Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, all kinds of video editing and 3D software and being super creative with it. It was a common thinking amongst my friends at university and me that being a good designer is about being really good with those tools.

Our arts professor once said to me: The pencil is the closest connection between your brain and a piece of paper.

Creativity is within you and all you need is a fast way to let it out. The more direct, the better.

For a web developer the editor is the pen and the browser is a piece of paper.

The longer I look at boilerplates, build tools, frameworks and ways to make my life as a developer easier, the more I long for the basics.

In the last two months I moved away from SASS for all new projects, though I know how helpful it can be in many places. I moved away from inuit.css, which I really liked as a CSS toolkit and went back to better structure my own CSS. I ditched Angular for Kirby 2 and went for a very reduced and tiny combination of loosely coupled js components.

Basically Stephen made me throw away lots of my work from last year and I'm very thankful for that. It helped me focus again. It helped me to get back to a more simple — pen and paper-like — setup and to recognize that I hardly loose anything. Instead I feel I gain a more direct connection to my brain.

@bastianallgeier

July 02 2014

DIY

I spent a big part of my childhood in our basement — no reason to call the police. I loved to waste entire days at my father's workbench, taking old electric devices apart with my best friend, not being able to assemble them again and building our own little gadgets for our treehouse.

DIY stores have always felt like toy stores to me. All those shiny tools and building materials — I tried to imagine how big our treehouse could have been when we would have had enough pocket money to buy more equipment and supplies.

My DIY past is still massively influencing my daily work. I learned to code by taking other people's code apart and trying to build my own stuff out of it. I've always suffered from a massive "reinvent the wheel" sickness and it taught me quite a lot. Building your own things — no matter if it is software or a slingshot — is one of the most satisfactory things you can do in life.

For software your DIY store is the web and all the components and tools are for free. The only cost is the time you spend on it.

We have a massive plug & play culture nowadays, which is quite the opposite of DIY. People expect things to just work and that's fine. Most people don't have the time to take things apart and learn how to rebuild or fix them. There's no need to know about the internals of your washing machine or the website you just visit. Our focus is somewhere else — finding the balance between our work and life.

While you can clearly see how the plug & play culture is growing everywhere around us, I feel that many people begin to look for something else again. Something more substantial, more passionate. A bit more DIY.

There's a massive difference between the things we plug in and they just work and those things we build on our own — it's our dedication. It's the personality we put in them by spending time on them. They might not turn out perfect, but that doesn't matter. It's about creation instead of consumption.

When we talk about user experience many forget that there's a huge component of how we feel when we use software — and that's how we feel about the software. The plug & play culture has brought many great new inventions and innovations. The web is full of plug & play tools and services that are out there to make our lives easier without thinking about their internals. That has worked for quite some time, but I think that time is over for many of us.

It's becoming extremely hard to trust and impossible to feel personally connected with one of those shiny apps and services out there. I remember a time when you read about a new start-up and the team behind it and you could feel the passion and the excitement — and it was most probably real. Nowadays everything feels shallow. You feel sold before you even sign up.

At least for me it has led to a revival of my DIY past. Instead of spending time on something that might be sold or shut down tomorrow I much rather put on some safety goggles and build my own thing.

So far I built a personal replacement for Zootool, a private Day-One for my family and a small tax helper app. All of them would never be publishable in their current state and they are far from perfect, but I love how they turned out and to use them on a daily basis.

There's an endless list of ideas for more personal apps and projects. It's a bit like standing at that workbench again, thinking about the possibilities and it just feels great!

@bastianallgeier

November 22 2013

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