Build Stuff

A couple weeks ago, I discovered a ton of old themes I designed. It was fun and funny and embarrassing to look at things that I thought were good enough to put on the internet as a 14 or 15 or 16 year old in 2005 and 2006 — it’s pretty bad. :)

I thought about sharing screenshots here as an example. Don’t be afraid to follow  your passion. Don’t be afraid to build things. Don’t be afraid to be bad at something before you’re good.

I read Outliers by Malcom Gladwell not long after it was published in 2008. For those that haven’t read it, Gladwell details what it takes to be a Steve Jobs, Robert Oppenheimer, or The Beatles. In short, you have to be in the right place at the right time and you have to have 10,000 hours of practice in your field. You can’t control whether you’re in the right place at the right time — I’m not even really convinced it’s necessary anymore, but you can probably control how much experience and practice you have.

On Brainpickings last week, there was a video backed by an Ira Glass monologue that reminded me of my old themes. It’s hard to pull out one quote from this short speech, but this one sums it up nicely:

 And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work.

I’ve heard many people that I look up to say similar things as well. I know Chris Coyier says something like “just build stuff” when asked how to get started.

I don’t, by any means, consider myself an expert in this and I’m definitely not done learning — it’s part of my DNA. Even without reading Outliers it’s likely I would have spent just as much time “building stuff” as a teenager. That said, I’m pretty proud of my job and feel lucky to work with — and learn from — tons of smart people every day.

So build stuff!

Lossy Compression with Photon

Photon, the image service hosted by Automattic, does lossless compression automatically. Page Speed will probably still complain that images aren’t compressed enough. Luckily, Photon has a way to fix that.

There are a couple of parameters, quality and strip, that will further reduce the file size of JPEG images. Quality is pretty straight forward. The strip parameter will let you strip EXIF and color data. I use a snippet like this to set the quality to 80% on my site.

The results can be pretty dramatic. At full size, this image of downtown Madison goes from 16MB to 2.7MB by setting the quality to 80%. That’s a big deal on a mobile connection and it’s pretty hard to spot the difference on most images unless you’re looking at them side by side.

Madison

Better Touch ID Performance

Most people don’t know that you can train Touch ID beyond the initial setup. Of course, every time you use Touch ID, it learns more about your fingerprint. I’m talking about deliberately adding lots of data, which increases performance — decreasing both false negatives and time to verify a fingerprint.

To start training, go to Touch ID & Passcode in the Settings app. It will ask you for your passcode to change Touch ID settings. From here, touch one of your added fingerprints to the Touch ID sensor. You’ll see the entry for that fingerprint is highlighted temporarily, which means it just recorded more data. Do this for a while, walking it to different parts of your fingerprint, and you should notice Touch ID start unlocking your phone faster than before.

Madison Skyline

This is one of my favorite views of the city — I run past it a couple times a week, though usually during the day. It was a nice night, so I finally went out with my camera and got a decent shot. I didn’t have a tripod, so I sat in the grass along John Nolan Drive and propped the camera on my knee. I actually wanted to get Monona Terrace in the photo as well, but the lens was too long. Next time!

Vim Tips to Make Yourself Faster

I use Vim because it’s faster for me than other text editors. Sure, you could use vim-mode for Atom or one of the various packages for Sublime, but they all have shortcomings — and Vim works everywhere. Here are five things I do to make Vim faster for me.

Relative Line Numbers

Most people know that you can use numbers with Vim commands to make a change multiple times, across multiple lines, or multiple characters. That’s not super useful if you have to stop to count the number of lines in a block of code before deleting it, for example. I use relative line numbers in Vim. The current line is always 0. I can instantly see that a block of code is 14 lines long and d14d to delete it.

Relative line numbers in Vim

Use . to repeat the last command

This one is pretty self explanatory. Any command can be repeated with .. If you delete a line with dd and realize that you also want to delete a few more lines, pressing . three times will delete the next three lines. It may seem like a small thing, but that’s half as many keystrokes.

Use = to format code

Often, when you copy and paste code from somewhere else, it won’t be formatted properly. The = command can help here. You can either do something like gg=G to format the entire document or highlight the block of code that needs to be formatted (in visual mode) and press = to format just that block.

Make shifts keep selection

When you highlight a block of code for the purpose of indenting it, the selection is lost when you do the first shift. Often times, you need to shift it more than one position though. The following snippet keeps the current selection in visual mode after you perform a shift.

Search to find what you’re looking for

I think one of the reasons I’m slower in other text editors is that I use the mouse to browse for specific code instead of using the search function. Start searching with /. After you enter the search and press return, you can jump the next and previous matches with n and N respectively.

5 Tips for Traveling Abroad

I’m spending this week in Lisbon — and it’s my first trip ever abroad. I’m writing this partly for you, but mostly for me, to remind myself for the next time I travel.

  1. Bring an adaptor. The ABCs of being an Automattician is Always Be Charging, and this includes when traveling abroad.

  2. Bring a debit card to withdraw cash for the best foreign exchange rates. As much as we all love Apple pay, credit cards aren’t as ubiquitous abroad.

  3. Check the weather before you leave, so that you can appropriately pack rain jackets or WordPress sunglasses (don’t forget the sunscreen).

  4. Get prepped for figuring out data abroad. This could mean getting Skype credits to use Boingo hotspot on the go, or getting international data set up on your phone ahead of time.

  5. Passport. Get one, and don’t leave it behind.