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Author Micah Cambre
me

over the hill

The journey that brought me to the 40th year of my life is now behind me. Now I look ahead of me as I continue walking down paths, taking new roads, and finding my way into the future.

As I reflect on my last decade, I smile at all my success and failure. The difference in where this last decade started and where it ends couldn’t be more different, but in so many ways it’s exactly the same. I continue searching for my next path, I give thanks for the things I have, and feel happy for where I’ve been.

I was able to be so many versions of my self.
I was a traveler, visiting Europe, South America and all over the US.
I was a photographer, spending some of my travels buried inside of a camera or my laptop creating photos.
I was a web developer, working for myself and for others, learning and creating code and doing my part to help make the internet better.
I was an organizer, putting together a reunion for my classmates who were in the marching band with me.

I was able to create and participate in many ways. But I’m not done. As I move forward, I hope I can revisit some roles I put aside.

For now, I look forward to what I face. I expect the good to be better and the bad to worse. I know I’ll bring new people into my life and lose others. I will try new things, travel to new places and do my best to live life with a warm heart.

Mid-life has, is and will be the best years of my life.

an ephemeral web

match lighting on fire

I’ve been reflecting more lately about how I spend my time online.
I think about the idea of taking back more control of my online presence.
I’ve made efforts to reduce attention and energy I give to social media.
And in these ways, I’ve never been more thoughtful of what I’m creating online than I am today.

It’s a challenge sorting out how to stay connected to people I care about who don’t understand the internet the same way I do. For the last couple of decades, my choice to live away from people I care about requires me to both make an effort to stay connected as well as participate in online communities. Sometimes that’s through social media, sometimes it’s here on my website. In fact, using this website, I’m learning how to create new ways to connect to others starting here on this site as a relationship to social media. I keep what I write here first primarily and syndicate or republish this content elsewhere secondarily. My site is my home and I want this home to contain what I create online more than I want to create elsewhere.

Lately, there’s another side in this I think about. In the last few months, I’ve had competing thoughts about this desire to post on here and in other places. These thoughts are in conflict of this need to own your own content or take control.

the web is mostly ephemeral

The need for connection is what makes the internet what it is. It’s what prompts us to browse websites, set up services, or download apps on our various devices. So often, communication on sites or services is performed in the moment. What we say, type or text matters but for a brief moment in time, as a reaction, for attention, or to provoke thought. So much of what I’ve said to others wasn’t formed but with a moment’s notice. This is true of many verbal conversations; our brains process things so quickly that we end up saying things without thinking and these thoughts are temporary.

I remember when I started using email in the 1990s (and the name included a dash [e-mail]), much of what I would get from people was forwarded emails or informal replies. I’ve even archived so much of my email since the 90s that I can review some patterns of what I used to send and receive from people. I was not aware of how much of what I sent was silly memes, jokes, poems or prose, things that were never meant to be more than just momentary. Having looked back upon a lot of that, it’s almost embarrassing what I thought was important or interesting enough to send to other people.

Even on this blog, I’ve written or copy and pasted a few silly posts that were in a similar mindset of just being interesting for a moment. I was lucky to have this platform to post to the few family or friends who would even read it. But some of these blog posts were meant to be meaningful in the moment I posted it.

into a black hole

When I look around at Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and so many other social media silos, I see a similar pattern as I remember with email. There’s a lot of forwarded, reposted, pinned, replied, retweeted, and generally recycled material that has a simple purpose for those moments.

Even in forum-like places like Reddit, Facebook Groups, and Slack/IRC, I see only some value in the threads and messages that people leave. More of what I see is that immediate connection we’re looking for, a way to bond, to engage or be engaged. And at some point, this content more or less disappears from the consciousness.

In the earlier days when companies were producing instant messengers like AOL, AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, MSN, and so many others, I had countless conversations that I can’t recall what was discussed. Those conversations are mostly lost in time, the recipients sometimes forgotten.

I can’t even tell you what some of my earliest posts on this website say without looking as well as what I said on younger versions of Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, or Yelp. Plenty of it doesn’t really matter to me and I suspect that most people feel the same way. I’ve seen my own family use these various sites and apps to communicate and catch up on each other’s lives. There’s not a lot of thought that goes into it otherwise.

If I was to suddenly lose access to everything I’ve ever written everywhere online, the noise of forwarded posts and emails being lost forever would not tear my heart into two. In the various replies by email and text message, or posts on Facebook, Medium, Reddit, and Twitter where I’ve made spontaneous remarks or thoughts, debates, support for trivial and non-trivial, like religious or political content, there’s little or no value to much of that.

so, what does matter?

I suppose the last section sounds fairly apathetic and nihilistic. No matter what truth there is in what I’ve just said, there’s plenty online that I’ve poured my heart into and and would make me sad to lose. I’ve manually backed up or saved some of the more important things I’ve written into the virtual world or in conversations I’ve had. These are a part of my personal history as who I am and I’d lose that part if it was to disappear.

It’s gonna be an ongoing challenge for me to figure out how to choose between forever posts that I write here and in-the-moment posts, tweets, comments, conversations, and chats that I have elsewhere. Some of this might change when I can figure out a way to encrypt certain content so that approved connections will be able to read what I write. This conversation crosses into my personal privacy as well. The less I solely use social media, it’s better for my overall privacy.

Many people won’t face the same issues I do; many are satisfied posting freely on free sites or apps irregardless of what happens to what they post or who gets their data. It’s just as ephemeral as email has been. I hope we’ll continue to see effective, popular and free ways to stay connected to each other on the internet like we do now but with less personal costs to our freedoms and privacies.

Maybe the idea of controlling our online presence and posts is more popular with more people than I realize, but my personal experience tells me otherwise. We just want a place to be together, share things, and live in the moment. We have that in so many ways and it’s still working, even if bad things happen.

web components

Quoted Web Components will replace your frontend framework by Danny Moerkerke

The benefits of native web components are clear:

  • native, no framework needed
  • easy integration, no transpilation needed
  • truly scoped CSS
  • standard, just HTML, CSS and JavaScript

Whoa, native support for Web Components is here? Going through the process of learning advanced Javascript, React.js and broader programming, the prospect of Web Components being a system I can use that browsers already support is so appealing.

The biggest concern I want to learn about is accessibility and the fact that Web Components basically use an extension of javascript to work. I browse the web with plugins that disable Javascript by default for most sites and I enable what I want to run, for security, privacy and performance reasons (maybe a topic for another post).

There are so many quotable lines in his post that I wish I could highlight everything here but just go read it for yourself.

I have subscribed so many new-to-me RSS feeds in the last few months that it feels like an Indieweb renaissance for independent publishing

programming journey

2019 opened with a lot of chatter to the state of web design and development.

I’m a front-end developer. This is the label I’ve allowed myself to be since the mid-2010s but it was a struggle to get that far. I previously referred to myself as a front-end coder, front-end designer, web designer, and webmaster. I still consider myself a web designer in the sense that I design code that produces websites. But this label doesn’t apply to me in 2019.

I’ve always struggled with wanting to be a good web designer, essentially a graphic designer for the web. I never solely followed that path, with countless attempts producing designs that were amateurish. It’s always been easier for me to iterate off other people’s work rather than come up with my own ideas, even as a musician or audio engineer. Remixing and updating someone else’s code, music, or recording feels more natural for me because it’s the creative realm with immediate feedback. But my beginnings into a web career started more technically.

In my freshman year of college, I enrolled in and quickly dropped Computer Science 101. It was not interesting to me. I struggled to enjoy it, found the homework to be tedious, and couldn’t care less to give it much effort. Computer science was too technical and not visual enough. The internet’s maturity, however, has brought me back full circle to the necessity for the basics of computer science via Javascript.

Web development has gone through a paradigm shift. In the 2010s, Node.js introduced Javascript to the server and it replaced aged languages like Perl, Java, and PHP. Javascript is now more than just basic interaction of DOM manipulation or API calls.

What is front-end developement today?

As long as JS continues being a fundamental role for web development, I believe an understanding of Computer Science basics is mandatory. Staying stuck in the middle between the creative and the technical limits me in job prospects, so much so that I don’t qualify for many available, and many of which are senior level, front-end developer jobs. And all of this has left me drifting professionally, in between a noticeable distance from my creative desire to my technical knowledge.

Code is a commodity

jQuery is the most important library to boost Javascript’s role in the history of the internet. Using jQuery, I cheated; it was a way for me to ignore the inevitable reality of a web development career focused around JS. The abundance of jQuery everywhere let me ignore thinking about JS outside of basic DOM manipulation. Most of the time, I outsourced coding problems to jQuery plugins, tutorials and tips I browsed to find.

Just as jQuery plugins delayed my need to level up, WordPress plugins furthered my procrastination. WordPress’ theme architecture, at a basic level, mirrors static HTML, sprinkled with PHP in minimal template files. The real work in a WordPress theme is scaffolding a layout with HTML and styling it using CSS, using pre-built WordPress plugins (mostly mixed with jQuery) for most interactivity. Along with a mature WordPress community came a rich ecosystem of turnkey themes and opinionated plugins; I only had to moderately create or modify the front-end or PHP.

For too many businesses, CSS is Bootstrap. Bootstrap, like jQuery, takes work out of truly learning basics of CSS. I’ve worked for many companies that quickly needed to iterate and develop what’s known as an minimal viable product (MVP) and they forced these types of frameworks into the product or cycle. To a degree, Bootstrap, and to a larger degree an increasing amount of other front-end libraries and frameworks can be considered to have immutable CSS, where most CSS is abstracted into individual classes for iterations of most rules and values. Among other things, this relieves the developer from having to think about a global namespace issue that CSS provides by default. CSS becomes like most other languages where you treat given CSS classes as methods to extend the markup without much thought into the cascade. I think this is a mistake.

At the same time at the growth of WordPress, jQuery, and Bootstrap (among many others like them), Node Package Manager (NPM), a package manager for Node.js, also grew exponentially. In 2013, NPM was used by over a million developers. In 2019, NPM was used by over 11 million users. Why is this significant? NPM gives developers a way to efficiently import JS libraries and frameworks into projects more easily than going to a bunch of project sites to download each package individually. This process makes efficient the ability to add plugins and packages to projects and it’s all circled around a project’s ability to use Javascript.

My front-end knowledge for putting together puzzles out of HTML, CSS and JS pieces was commoditized to these various systems, libraries and frameworks. This was problematic for me at a slow but increasing pace. That said, my affection for web design on a creative level trumped the need to become more proficient with learning programming fundamentals. But this shifting paradigm quickly moved me out of contention for more jobs as time went on.

The moving paradigm

The early 2010s showed glimpses into a JS-everything future. Job ads needed significant jQuery programming from scratch, even moderate Javascript skills. Along with that saw the rise of the frameworks like Backbone.js and Angular.js. For most of 2013, I was on a temp job for a large enterprise company that chose a Javascript framework called Angular.js, which at the time seemed intriguing. But I also had no idea how this framework abandoned the tradition of a light client-side scripting on top of server-side scripting as well as progressive enhancement.

It really started hitting me in 2014 when job ads increasingly wanted devs familiar with principles from the MVC world for more rich web apps. It was baffling and stressful to watch the “I’m qualified” pool of jobs decrease. Despite that, I was still determined not to learn back-end programming. My mind circles around HTML and CSS plus some JS, visual layouts and User Interfaces, small animations and transitions that are now the role of CSS. Reliance on JS for everything was growing out of control.

The next few years, I accepted roles allowing some static templating or moderate scripting, each new role requiring more JS than the previous but still within my capability. And that leads me to today.

JS is the future

2019 web development starts with a framework or a library, primarily React.js. The modern web ecosystem is Javascript built on top of Javascript, or in other words, full-stack Javascript. We’re surrounded by opinionated frameworks and libraries that promise the world. This ecosystem requires knowledge of both Object Oriented Programming and Functional Programming, two philosophies to which I’ve only had minimal exposure. For me, this goes beyond learning just the language and syntax of JS.

Back-end development of the 2000s is now front-end development within the modern JS stacks. Yesterday’s back-end developer using Perl, PHP and Java are today’s front-end developer using JS across the full-stack. Today’s younger front-end developer increasingly comes from a JS bootcamp or transitioning from a back-end heavy education into the front-end. Staying in the web industry also means moving into new spaces like Machine Learning, AI, and big data. For those of us comfortable primarily with HTML and CSS, these jobs, if these jobs aren’t outsourced by CSS frameworks they are going to agencies or designer roles. Front-end jobs are often centered around back-end Javascript on the front-end.

Perl and Java slowly phased out starting over a decade ago. WordPress’ PHP back-end likely faces a similar fate. WordPress is slowly replacing chunks of its system with modern JS like React. WordPress is a slow moving ship but there will be noticeable pain in the forced transition continuing this year into the next decade considering that WordPress drives about one third of all websites. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other similar software environments like Drupal have to pivot to more JS everywhere.

And I’m playing catch up to get into this reality, struggling to learn what I avoided for so long. I move further from creativity and more into technical everything. This is where the front-end developer jobs are, this is how to stay employed as a developer. If I want to re-enter a freelance career where I can build and support my own product, I have to embrace a full-stack skill set based around JS. Or partner up with someone who already has this. This is a slow moving process that I’m not sure where I’ll end up.

The rest of this year will be spent with services like scrimba.com, FreeCodeCamp, Wes Bos courses, and other resources to consume and practice.

javascript frustration

I’ve been taking a deep dive into Javascript and React. Progress is slow, frustration is high. I’m still wondering where this will all end up. Didn’t I major in music? Hmm…

15 years and counting

March 1st marked an important milestone, my 15th year living in Los Angeles. This is the longest I’ve settled in one place in my life. However, in the years I’ve been here, I moved six times. I almost evenly split my childhood/adolescence/young adult and adulthood between Texas and California respectively.

Funny thing is, I don’t really consider much of my time in LA as settled down. So much felt transitional in my mind, despite having lived in one place for more than eight years. I still think of Texas as home when I return, but California is just as much a part of my life in this way.

Maybe it’s time I shake things up again soon, as I enter a new decade in my life very soon…

Some days, I just don’t want to go to the gym. I don’t have to lift weights or use a treadmill to get my heart rate up, and these exercises were a challenge!

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/well/workouts/

react progress bar

Why do I find React.js progress bar examples that never involve the HTML progress element? It’s always nested <div>s. Progress elements have broad support for almost five years now.

friends list

friends list

As I transition back onto my personal website, I want to find a way to have a personal friends list to connect with here: a list of trusted connections that will receive exclusive blog posts. It’s a challenge I haven’t yet solved but I have some ideas. But let’s step back for a moment so I can explain better.

Many years ago, in the age of Friendster becoming a social network, I installed a web forum called phpBB here for a couple of reasons:

  1. Give people a central place to socialize
  2. Keep track of birthdays

I thought it would be neat to give people I know a central place to have conversations and talk about things. I can’t find the number now but I believe I had close to 50 people sign up and that was helpful for me. It was effectively a contact list. Some people left their birth dates, others left more information. I could use this to keep track and personalize my greetings to people, mainly for #2 above.

I actually like the idea of a friends list and I think we see various forms of them online. Most apps or sites describe this as your social media connections, using terms like Followers, Following, or Friends. But why am I highlighting this?

Privacy

When I know my writing goes into a tunnel, such as private messaging, direct messaging or custom publishing to the various friends lists or followers, I can let my guard down a little and be more personal.

Facebook message composer

See this image above? Look at the bottom right side where it says “Friends”.

Facebook profiles can be closed from the broader ecosystem as well as the internet. The form above provides some form of nuanced privacy control when broadcasting your writings. Outside of Facebook collecting and selling everyone’s data, this is a form of encapsulation that allowed me to be more vulnerable than I am on the broader internet. It’s a convenient but effective mirage.

Social participation

If we’re connected online, it’s possible you’ve noticed my participation in social media dwindled starting in 2017. I’ve had a complicated relationship with these various sites since the late 2000s and had my ups and downs. I grew envious when I saw more people I know sign up and almost exclusively use these services.

I blogged a lot in early to mid-2000s with all kinds of random posts. My writings began at the end of college and this was the outlet to all those who weren’t in the same place as I was. I moved from Colorado to Texas to California and traveled at least a couple times a year, or more, in most of that decade. So keeping up with people was not easy and this was a place I could send people.

But that envy of MySpace and later Facebook took its toll. It effectively silenced me in the early 2010s. I lost the motivation to write here into the void. But I’m now apart of what’s being labeled as the old guard of the web, looking back at a time in the first millennial decade where the web was a playground for anyone who cared. And I believe more than ever that this type of connection should not be solely enclosed by walled gardens of social media sites who prey on me.

Connection

So what’s this leading to? More blog posts here. Right now they’ll be public, open to the whole world, syndicated to social sites at times, and available for you to leave comments and participate if you want. Maybe you’ll just read or skim, that’s fine too.

Ultimately, I would like to recreate a friends list here. I want to create a tunnel for people who care and want more than sometimes-bland, often-technical public blog posts. When you “add” me, when you “follow” me, when we make a trusted connection that shares a common secret between each other, I can make more personal statements and know these words are going to people who I want them to see.

But I haven’t figured this part out yet. Maybe it’s making encrypted posts that my trusted connections can view. Maybe it’s something else that I haven’t thought of. I want it to be something you can sign up for, you can click, you can follow, and I can approve, similar to what we’re already used to.

Privacy might be increasingly difficult, maybe it’s mostly dead online, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to take it back in small ways. Ways that’ll benefit both of us.

Let’s see how long it takes for me to come up with a way to have a personal friends list for asuh.com. Once this happens, you can have your own site/profile/blog and do the same.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash