Lab Notes

Thoughts & ideas from Darin Cassler.

Let’s chase an eclipse

Hey folks! Long time, no see. I’ve been off plotting some big things that I hope will bring a bit of joy and wonder to the world.

This morning I will be hopping in my car and traveling about one thousand miles to go witness the eclipse. I have no plans or directives beyond chasing this astronomical event but I hope to continue moving and telling stories.

As a preamble, I present The Ramble. (Yes, the rhyme was intentional.) Perhaps the most genuinely joyous events of the year in Burlington, VT.


001 December QuickBits

Oh, 2016. You were

  1. I thought it was archival footage for a moment

The amazing, endless battle between rural Eastern European partisan fighters, demons, mecha, and werewolves

Jakub "Mr Werewolf" Rozalski is a prolific Polish painter whose longrunning series of painters depict rural Eastern European folk fighting against mecha warriors, werewolves, and demons.

Oh god, look at that damn thing

Rozalski produced much of this art for the successful kickstarted game Scythe, and the best of it has been collected in a $40, 105-page limited edition book. His Tumblr has notes on the individual pieces and the fantastic worlds from which they're drawn; another series is called "Wolfpack - 1863." His Artstation account features process notes and drafts of the paintings.

Merry Christmas! Love, Krampus

Rozalski’s intent is “to commemorate this sad and tragic period in history, in my own way, to light on this parts of history that usually remain in the shadows of other events… remember and honor the history, but live in the present.” He adds, “I like to mix historical facts and situations with my own motives, ideas and visions. … I attach great importance to the details, the equipment, the costumes, because it allows you to embed painting within a specified period of time.”

Check out his Tumblr apply titled The Art of Mr Werewolf

This post was written by Cory Doctorow and originally published on Boing Boing.

Off with their head! The decoupled CMS model

There has been increasing buzz recently around 'headless' or 'decoupled' content management systems. In short, remove the presentational aspects of your content management system in favor of robust API support 1.

ALA On Air recently hosted a panel that spoke about this at length.

The key lesson for us was that a headless CMS helped solve a problem. We didn’t dive into headless CMSes because it was trendy, we did it because we needed to solve specific problems (in the first case an aesthetic/creative one, and in the second a data-management one). The other important outcome was that we could let each piece of the project do what it does best—by letting the CMS simply manage content, we could use better tools for rendering the presentation layer

Whats problems can we solve?

Performance: Let's take WordPress as an example. About one-fourth of content on the entire internet is managed and displayed using WordPress. It's no secret that the long lifespan and extensive feature set that comes alone comes at a pretty hefty price for performance.

While it may be just fine - and frankly, typically the right choice - to use WordPress' robust templating engine to display your content; other times you may want to simply provide a bit of data to a lightweight app or page.

Portability: If there's one thing API's were made for it's this.

  1. Wordpress 4.4 will have WP-API as part of Core, Drupal has similar tools, heck - even Ghost provides an access API.

Gene Wilder, master of the comedic pause

Raging Cinema pays tribute to the late Gene Wilder and his use of the comedic pause. On Twitter, Edgar Wright, who knows a thing or two about funny, called for a moment of silence for Wilder:

A moment of silence for the master of the comedic pause. Gene Wilder: funny doing something & funny doing nothing.

Bonus: Award for Best Support Weirdo

Crispin Glover in Back to the Future, Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, and Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein are just a few of the interesting and eccentric performances worthy of a Best Supporting Weirdo Oscar.

Steph Curry, Donald Trump & Leicester City succeed for exactly the same reason

Shooting 30' threes half the time sounds irresponsible but if it works, it works.

Likewise - putting all your infielders on one side sounds insane. Running the entire soccer match like it’s a power play sounds like a recipe for disaster.

They all work. They’re all winners.
Each has this one unique advantage: they’re playing against ancient and predictable strategies. In turn, their opponents are up against novel tactics which throw away just about all assumptions of “how the game is played”.

Nobody has ever routinely shot 4-pointers like The Splash Brothers. With an obscenely high field goal percentage for long distance; Golden State is seizing on sniper like skills to force opponents to run the most wide open defenses ever seen. Pop, roll and shoot or — with all that open space — slash inside. Win.
Baseball’s controversial “shift”, where defensive players are positioned in places that make no sense whatsoever — has lead to pitchers shutting down left-handed pull hitters like no other time since the dead ball era. (I really want to see Mark Texiera drag bunting at this point.)

Leicester City overcame 1000–1 odds to become champions of the British Premiere League in just their second season. In 2014 they were playing in the EPL equivalent of the minor leagues. Today they have largely the same core of players — albeit a new manager — and a playbook that is so aggressive it feels reckless.

As it turns out, no reasonable defense is prepared for the almost-always-nearly-offsides upfield play that Leicester threw down all season. What’s more, keeping a more conservative position for your defenseman as a response jeopardizes your midfield and attacking strategies. Your dudes are still back in your own 18 waiting for an inevitable lightning strike.

And then there’s the 45th and final President of the United States: Donald Trump.

Let's talk about people instead of 'users'

Typically, User Stories are associated with Agile/SCRUM product development methods - but let's get real. It's all about people1. I would argue that much of the way we think about user stories is actually counter productive.

I'll be the first to admit that the approach of interviewing project stakeholders in order to find their pain points, their needs and their desires is a hugely valuable process. In the simplest terms2, we are discovering problems that need to be solved - the heart of invention. We then boil down these human experiences into atomic units -- user stories. Or rather, we ask users to boil them down for us.

User is a four letter word

One of the first and most important things about user stories - or so you may have been told - is that the stakeholders need to write them.

The above example is totally obvious. Yes, getting this piece of information to the development team is important but as a product designer - I want to know more about this person.

In fact, there are a number of methods for user story collection that are just absolute garbage. Why?

User Stories don't pass the Turing Test

Here is the recommended format for any user story:

As a user, I want something so that I can get something.

Sorry, but anything fitting that format could be accomplished with some solid machine learning and heuristic analysis of the marketplace.

  1. This is the footnote one

  2. This is the second footnote

A Ghost is Born

A career Wordpress developer switched to Ghost.

I'm a Wordpress professional - there's no way around that one. I spend nearly every day of my life working on, discussing and thinking about Wordpress Core, themes and plugins. I routinely travel across the country for Wordcamp conferences. I have four separate instances of Vagrant running four different combinations of Wordpress version and server stack. Pretty much, I'm drowning in all things WP.

So, naturally, this site is powered by Ghost.

After nearly six years on Wordpress, today marks the launch of a new version of and it doesn't include a single line of PHP. In fact, this server doesn't even know how to PHP. There is no SQL database. I didn't have to tune NGINX, Memcached, Varnish or HHVM.

I'll just use javascript. Thanks, Ghost!

It's just a blog

Incidentally, I've been using post types as an analog for proper document models for years. As such, I have no simple way in mind to manage 'Bits & Beats' in Ghost as I did all that time ago in WordPress.

That's fine. I need to learn to appreciate simplicity.

Wordpress has grown up quite a bit since the days of bbPress. I hopped the train in 2007-ish and never quite looked back. I would like to think I've grown up alongside. Since version 3.0 (or 2.8 depending on who you're asking) - Wordpress has been treated to an absolute feast of features. Features that I use every day; features that save me countless hours each years; featured I have absolutely no need for myself.

One could argue that Wordpress has transcended CMS-status into something of a framework. It's huge. It's powerful. It's grounded in solid software design - and it's too big for its own good.

WordPress isn't for blogs anymore

I said it. Deal with it. It's entirely true. In the same ways WordPress was matured into PHP framework, it has distanced itself from it's heart as a simple blogging platform. The only thing left is the famous 5-minute-install.

Still, Ghost has Wordpress beast.

WordPress is for other people

When you're developing a project with WordPress, you're almost always thinking about some sort of hypothetical end-user. Whether that user is someone who purchased your plugin or a client who has paid thousands of dollars for your attention - WordPress is probably your friend. It does a tremendous job of letting the developers finally rest when a project is 'done'. Invariably, this results in a gradual decline into edge-case-overload-hell.

What about those projects that don't need to be handed off to mere civilians? What about the projects you handle yourself with the love and care of a practical, modern-day developer.


Flat object storage, check. Simple templating system, check. Production and Development environments, check. Platform-agnostic, check. Powerful, check. Robust - check yourself.

In any event, welcome to the new site. I imagine you'll be hearing a bit more about javascript than PHP moving forward.