Well, well, well, we meet again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 · 2 min read

I’m back.

The new Comfortably Numbered runs on a new state-of-the art blogging platform, developed (of course) by yours truly: shock. Shock brings together a lot of powerful technologies written by smarter people, and bundles them up into a command line tool to publish posts.

Shock generates an RSS feed, a homepage, a 404 page, and content pages, all built on templates and CSS that you write yourself. Then it lumps those in a directory that you can serve on anything clever enough to serve static filesystems: Dropbox, Google Drive, Github Pages, Amazon S3, even your home computer.

Shock uses Mustache’s non-logical templating system (non-logical, in this context, is a compliment). It was built on a rather simple idea: if you’re using a node-based command-line platform to create a blog, chances are you want control over every single aspect of presentation. In fact, I consider that one of the primary symptoms of being a hacker.

Hackers want control over everything that they use. It’s why we prefer extensible text editors and browser add-ons, and why we spend hours tinkering with spacing equations in TeX. It’s also part of the reason I migrated away from Google; App Engine is a very closed non-hacker-friendly environment. The hacker-control symptoms are what guide us subconsciously in choosing and designing software. We prefer open-source projects and scriptable systems because they conform to the pattern of software that gives control to the user.

The opposite is true for most nonhacker packages. Word and PowerPoint are ‘merciful god’ software: they give you features (for example, those dreadful PowerPoint animations) which you may or may not use, but they retain complete control over what can be done. Compare that to a hacker-friendly document generation technology like TeX or CSS. Similarly, nonhacker image editors or other similar applications try to hide the filesystem from you. The most recent project you were working on magically appears, along with a list of other recent projects. This is unaccaptable to a hacker.

I feel the easiest way to convey this message is: “don’t be afraid to expose your software’s guts”. Often, the best software is the kind that gives you as many handles and hooks as possible. Make your command-line tools UNIX filters wherever possible: read from stdin and write to stdout. Use a universally usable format like JSON for storing data. Most importantly, never explicitly disallow a user from doing anything.

Preventing stupid things also prevents clever things.

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