Eugene Fedorenko is Designing, Writing, Reading, and Traveling

Reading (never enough)

Current books: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford Europe: A History by Norman Davies Eloquent JavaScript, 3rd Edition: A Modern Introduction to Programming by Marijn Haverbeke

See posts only about books, articles, or websites.

Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit?

By Jonathan English

Why ridership per capita low is so low in US?

Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.

On sharing the road with the cars:

It is not a coincidence that, while almost every interurban and streetcar line in the U.S. failed, nearly every grade-separated subway or elevated system survived. Transit agencies continued to provide frequent service on these lines so they remained viable, and when trains did not have to share the road and stop at intersections, they could also be time competitive with the car. The subways and els of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all still around, while the vast streetcar and interurban networks of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, and many others are long gone. Only when transit didn’t need to share the road with the car, and frequent service continued, was it able to survive.

On a vicious cycle that destroys American public transportation:

Service drives demand. When riders started to switch to the car in the early postwar years, American transit systems almost universally cut service to restore their financial viability. But this drove more people away, producing a vicious cycle until just about everybody who could drive, drove.

I live in a suburb and don’t commute to the office that often lately, but when I do I usually drive. That said, being within a walking distance from a train station was important in choosing our current house. Philadelphia will get too congested and too expensive to park at some point, so I want to have a plan B. Hopefully a local high-speed line will still be around then.

Self-Host Your Static Assets

By Harry Roberts

Great up-to-date analysis of risks, mitigations, and myths surrounding static assets hosting. Some of these were considered best practices just recently, but often they were blindly trusted and not tested.

How I Dropped Dropbox

By Khoi Vinh

Clearly, storage is a commodity now. And while Dropbox has worked hard to differentiate itself with new features, at its core, it’s still hard to argue that the service is truly much more than storage. Even the company’s elegantly designed and reasonably popular Paper app hardly feels additive; it’s hard to make a case for innovation when the key value-add is something as basic as word processing.

Then last month my view of Dropbox’s unique value diminished even further when Apple announced that folder sharing would soon be coming to iCloud Drive. This replicates fully the most compelling reason I had to stick with Dropbox: the ability to give other users access to my select folders directly in the macOS Finder. That, combined with Dropbox’s recent announcement that it would be increasing the annual cost of my pro plan by US$20 at renewal time, finally convinced me to cancel my subscription.

I’ve been considering doing the same lately. First, I am already paying for iCloud to store my photos, so Dropbox storage is redundant. Second, I don't like the level of access Dropbox is requesting on my Mac. And third, I am not a fan of the direction they are taking as a company.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant

By David Graeber

Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

Can “Indie” Social Media Save Us?

By Cal Newport

Proponents of the IndieWeb offer a fairly straightforward analysis of our current social-media crisis. They frame it in terms of a single question: Who owns the servers? The bulk of our online activity takes places on servers owned by a small number of massive companies. Servers cost money to run. If you’re using a company’s servers without paying for the privilege, then that company must be finding other ways to “extract value” from you—and it’s that quest for large-scale value extraction, they argue, that leads directly to the crises of compromised privacy and engineered addictiveness with which we’re currently grappling.

[…]

When the problem is framed this way, the solution promoted by the IndieWeb movement becomes obvious: own your own servers. On a smaller scale, this is an old idea. For the past twelve years, I’ve hosted my personal blog using a server that I lease in a Michigan data center; I’ve enjoyed knowing that I own what I post there and that no one is trying to monetize my data or exploit my attention. And yet, running a personal blog that you write yourself is quite different from running a social network. To create social platforms that work on servers owned by users rather than big corporations, the IndieWeb developers have had to solve a tricky technical problem: decentralization.

This is exactly why most of my online activity shifted from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to this website. It’s more work to share this way and I miss a good chunk of my audience, but I enjoy owning my data and controlling the way it’s presented. I am keeping an eye on IndieWeb as at this point it’s clear that most of us are not happy with social networks, so something must replace them eventually.

Building the Google Photos Web UI

By Antin Harasymiv

I spent a fair amount of time with Google Photos (before switching to iCloud Photos) and was always impressed by the performance and a technical side of their UI. This post by one of Google's UX Engineers dives deep into implementation details. So interesting to see how engineering leads design and UX efforts in a cutting-edge product like this.

Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert

I read this book in 2016 but got to process my highlights only now. Working through them has given me a new appreciation for this book. Stumbling on Happiness is really well written and researched. In a way, this is a self-help book written for people who don’t read self-help books. Daniel Gilbert is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University specializing in social psychology, so it’s grounded in research and actual science. He explains how the human brain can imagine future and how well it can predict if this future will bring us happiness. (Spoiler: it doesn’t do a very good job.) Along the way he writes about anxiety, dealing with negative events, feeling in control, what happiness means and how it can be measured, remembering experiences, changing our views, and predicting feelings. Overall I consider it one of the best books I read in 2016 and hope that my highlights will motivate someone to pick it up and read.

Keep reading…

To cure affluenza, we have to be satisfied with the stuff we already own

By Richard Denniss at The Guardian

On affluenza and environment:

Put simply, if we want to reduce the impact on the natural environment of all of the stuff we buy, then we have to hang on to our stuff for a lot longer. We have to maintain it, repair it when it breaks, and find a new home for it when we don’t need it any longer. If we want to cure affluenza, we have to get more satisfaction from the things we already own, more satisfaction from services, more satisfaction from leisure time, and less satisfaction from the process of buying new things.

On bottled water:

In 2015 American consumers spent over US$14bn buying over 40bn litres of bottled water. Bottled water consumption has been growing steadily for the past decade, except when it declined during 2008 and 2009 during the global financial crisis. Despite its decline in those years, no reports of deaths through dehydration due to a shortage of bottled water were reported.

[…]

Whether consumers around the world choose to double their spending on bottled water in the coming decade or decide to carry their own water will not be determined by the relative cost of bottled water and the cost of a thermos. It will be determined by culture.

This is a valid point, but it’s hard to dismiss how insanely and dangerously cheap bottled water is in US. 24 pack of 16.9 fl oz bottles cost $2.49 at CVS or any other pharmacy, which is $0.10 per bottle or $0.79 per gallon. For comparison, large 5 gallon bottles for a water dispenser that we use at home are from $6.49 to $9.49, which is $1.30–1.90 per gallon or almost 2–2.5 times more expensive. It doesn’t make financial sense to fill a thermos or a reusable water bottle before leaving the house instead of grabbing a bottle from the pack, and only culture may not be enough to change that. Until water bottles will be priced as an emergency measure and a last resort, they will be bought and discarded in insane amounts.

The Surface Book 2 is everything the MacBook Pro should be

By Owen Williams

I’ve been a devoted Mac user for 13 years and didn’t really care what’s going on behind the wall, but recent developments at Microsoft made me curious. Surface looks very interesting and Windows 10 feels fresh and modern. On my recent trip to New York I walked past Microsoft Store and stopped to play with their hardware for a few minutes. I didn’t have much time, but it felt solid and nothing like my last Windows laptop in 2003.

I’d be delighted if my Mac — or iPad — could do what Surface can. I enjoy doing emails and most of my reading on iPad, but as a designer and developer I can’t use it for any real work. I tried to use it for processing photos, but it required too many trade-offs comparing to my current workflow on iMac with Lightroom and NAS. The idea of a Surface laptop that can run Figma, my development environment, and Lightroom is very intriguing.

Owen first switched to Windows 10 at his desktop machine and now replaced his MacBook Pro with Surface Book 2 too. His article is an interesting and deep look both into current hardware and software. A few other links on this:

My Self Reliance

By Shawn James

No idea where this interest is coming from, but I've been mesmerized by this YouTube channel of man singlehandedly building a log cabin in the Canadian Wilderness and practicing outdoorsman skills. This video is a good one to start with: