Thomas Cannon

They finally arrived & look great!

A photo of my business card, front & back, which says the name of my business (Practical Computer), my contact information, and has a QR code

I got the design for my Practical Computer business cards today and I can’t emphasize enough how much I love them. Can’t wait to see the final product

Business card design for Practical Computer; with our logo, my contact info, and a patterned background made of various brand elements.

Use a PORO for Configuration

This post has been sitting in my drafts for months, so I'm shoving it out into the world!

Garrett Dimon and I have been chatting back & forth about Rails configurations. This is an extension/riff on his idea for Unified Configuration in Rails

While Garrett's approach hooks nicely into Rails and has multiple metaprogramming niceties; my approach is generalized & direct (but verbose). Essentially: create a Configuration class that is a PORO; I named mine AppSettings. You can see a gist of it here!

This is born out of a convention in my iOS apps, which use a Swift struct called Configuration, that pulls the configuration from various sources into a strongly-typed, consistent location that is easy to remember.

My primary focus is to explicitly declare the configuration values and standardize how they’re accessed with a straightforward API, rather than try to standardize how they’re stored. This is because there are so many cases where either:

  • “It depends” on how they should be stored.
  • There’s an external dependency that makes you use a particular storage mechanism.
  • The configuration is so entrenched as part of the environment that it ends up in the environment’s configuration.

Using a PORO with clearly defined methods gives you:

  • Clarity in how the value is retrieved.
  • The flexibility for different value types. Some are single keys, some are nested objects, etc.
  • The same API for dynamically generated values; such as subdomained URIs
  • An easy object to mock out for tests as needed.

I've been using this approach for an internal app I've been commissioned to make; it's worked out very well so far! I'd definitely recommend moving towards this approach in your projects.

"Do it right, or do it twice" Code Quality Edition

Inspired by Lucian’s post, I finally setup code quality for the first Practical Computer app.

This whole process was definitely borderline “do it right, or do it twice.” I wish I’d solved this a bit sooner. I knew it was necessary, but had kept pushing it back because the app isn’t even close to being live yet. But this line from Lucian’s post changed my opinion:

Side projects developed while having a full-time job have a unique characteristic worth noting. The time dedicated to working on the side project is not continuous. For instance, you may work on it for 1-2 hours on Saturday, and the next opportunity to work on it may only arise a week later.

It is then essential to make the code quality built-in and use as much automation as possible.

That’s a very strong argument, and one I hadn’t heard yet. Of course, since I delayed, it caused the past 3 work sessions to be solely about fixing up the repo. But the upside is now I have all the code ready for the next project. And speaking of that, here’s a gist of my customized set of Rubocop & CircleCI configuration. I hope it helps!

I made a few technical differences than Lucian:

  • I trimmed down the Rubocops used. This gives me a balance of expressiveness & the benefits of a linter
  • I chose CircleCI because it’s what I’ve been using for years and it’s Fine™️. Plus it has the distinct advantage of SSH access to debug jobs, and job reporters
  • I’m using Bun, so relying on Dependabot for my JS dependencies
  • I’m using Code Climate for maintainability monitoring

(Some) strategies for reducing test flakiness

This is a quick post, but wanted to get it out there!

Over the past week, I’ve been having to detangle some serious test flakiness. Below are a few findings that I wanted to put out there for other folks to hopefully find useful!

Sync up your randomizer seeds (especially for fake data generators) with the test randomizer seed

For example, I use Faker, which allows you to customize the seed it uses. Using the same seed that your test suite is randomized with makes it so that re-running a test with the same seed always generates the same data:

# test/minitest/faker_random_seed_plugin.rb
module Minitest
def self.plugin_faker_random_seed_init(options)
Faker::Config.random = options[:seed]
end
end

Always print the number of parallel workers the suite is run with

Sometimes tests fail under certain randomization & parallelization combinations, such as a subset of tests failing for:

  • Seed 1234
  • 4 parallel workers

In order to help with test reproduction, it’s good to always print the number of parallel workers to replicate the failure

# test/test_helper.rb
puts "MINITEST_WORKER_COUNT: #{Minitest.parallel_executor.instance_variable_get(:@worker_count)}”
puts "PARALLEL_WORKERS: #{ENV["PARALLEL_WORKERS"]}”

Use deterministic data sources whenever possible

I know I just mentioned Faker above, but there are some data sources that are deterministic & should always be stable (like billing plans!) This is where Oaken shines, and why I use it. It gives you a hook to automatically create synced, deterministic data that is cross-environment, while still giving you the right balance of:

  • Dynamic field values for data like names & emails
  • A cohesive “story” for your data’s shape
  • Cleanly defined flows for per-case datasets, like pagination rules

Listen, I’m as much of a planning sicko as the next engineer, but I feel like this isn’t hitting the way you think it should.

The following quote, highlighted: "With OmniPlan for Apple Vision Pro, your Gantt charts are no longer limited by the size of a physical display screen. How cool is that?"

A quick devlog for LittleCRM, this time going over some business decisions; plus some fun (for me) framework components: buttondown.email/little-cr…

BetterImportmaps

After YEARS of nebulous planning & understanding the theoretics, I FINALLY got a working build chain that accounts for the realities of:

  • compiled JS
  • not relying on an external CDN
  • needing to use package.json for standard tooling

While also allowing for multiple importmap support! All without magic or bespoke tooling 👀

Calling it BetterImportmaps, because it is

Hoping to open-source eventually, but it demolished my discretionary time this month. 😬🫠

I published a quick update about Little CRM, mainly the behind-the-scenes work that’s been going on

buttondown.email/little-cr…

“Okay, but what about THIS failure scenario with passkeys?”

“Okay, but what about THIS failure scenario with passkeys?”

Important caveat: I’m not a security researcher, I’ve just read a lot about passkeys & thought about their implementation. I’ve been trying to collect findings from actual security researchers; if you know of any discussions related to this, please send them my way!

When talking about passkeys, I’ve gotten the same set of questions, poking at the edge cases of them. Which is good! Skepticism is always good; especially with new authentication techniques. But I wanted to answer some of these FAQs in a centralized location to save having to repeat myself a bunch.

“What about if my computer/phone breaks?”

If you’re in the vast majority of users, you’ll likely have your passkeys stored in a distributed credential manager; like iCloud keychain, Bitwarden, 1Password, Google’s saved credentials, etc.

Apple has a really great breakdown of the security measures for iCloud keychain, including the security of recovering access: https://support.apple.com/en-us/102195

In short: as long as you’re still able to access your credential manager, and it syncs online, you’re good. 💪

“What if I don’t want to rely on an online service?”

A good question! I always recommend that folks use a hardware security key (such as a Yubico) for their essential accounts, and keep it in a safe place. The analogy I use is: “treat it like your passport, birth certificate, or other essential documents.”

This will allow you to make sure you can access your most essential services, even if there is a SNAFU and your credential manager is no longer accessible.

“Okay, but what if I really lose access to everything? My backup hardware key, my iCloud/Google/1Password account, everything”

This is also a good question; and needs to be addressed. What we’re talking about here is not passkey specific, it’s a general question of “how does account recovery work?” So the questions being asked are the same ones we ask about our current password-based authentication flows.

For the vast majority of services, a familiar email-based recovery process makes sense:

  1. You request an emergency passkey registration for your account
  2. You’re emailed a token that can only be used once, and expires
  3. You use that token to register a new passkey (likely on a new credential manager/hardware key)
  4. You’re logged in!

And if you’re unable to get a new security key or credential management account, this flow works so long as you’re able to access your email. You can use a browser/OS that stores credentials locally. Because of this, even though it’s not recommended, you could recover your account on a public computer (just make sure to delete the passkey when you’re finished!)

This is why it’s important to make sure your email account is as secure as possible, with multiple avenues for recovery. Your email is your identity card online; for better or worse.

This one is tough to tease out a bit, because:

“What about accounts I share access for, like utility accounts?”

Good passkey implementations allow you to register multiple passkeys. This is for a number of reasons, including this one!

  • You can save passkeys for devices on different ecosystems, to reduce the headache of working across platforms. For example: if there’s a service I access on my windows gaming PC, I can create a passkey specifically for that windows machine to avoid the hassle of having to use my phone + Bluetooth to log in every time.
  • Ecosystems can allow you to share a passkey, such as Apple allowing you to AirDrop a passkey to a nearby contact
  • This reason, so your partner/family member can access this joint account independently

“What if I need to remove someone with a passkey from the account?”

Good passkey implementations allow you to remove previously registered passkeys after verifiying that you can access a different passkey (to avoid deleting the passkey you currently have access to!). This is no different than someone using a shared password to change the password on an account; but it is less disruptive.

New LittleCRM devlog! This time about being trapped in The Sketch Vortex for 5 months, why it’s important, and commoditized UIs: buttondown.email/little-cr…

👀👀👀

A screenshot of a drafted newsletter email, titled: 'Devlog 3—Extremely Spongebob Voice: “3 Months Later…”'

Dear lord. This took way too long; the first pass of reference renderings for the Practical Framework are finished.

It only took 1 false start which did ultimately make for a better end result.

It’s also only one part of a larger, standardized pipeline. 😅 but definitely the hardest one to get right

A screenshot of my logged time spent on the Practical Computer design system. It was 85 hours over the span of April through August

warden 0.3.0 released

A new version of warden-webauthn is out (the foundation for devise-passkeys)

This one ensures that the underlying credentials must be discoverable by default; but provides hooks to override in edge cases where you need to allow non-discoverable credentials. Check out the Github issue for more info!

Check it out! And, as always, we need maintainers!

devise-passkeys 0.2.0 released

The next alpha for devise-passkeys is out!

This includes:

There's still a long ways to go, but check it out! And, as always, we need maintainers!

I stand corrected github.blog/2023-05-1…

What’s the over/under on GitHub being down system-wide twice in as many weeks due to running Edge Rails on arguably one of the most mission-critical bits of internet infrastructure?

Devise-passkeys 0.1.0 is out

👋 Updating with some news! I've cut an initial alpha of devise-passkeys

Note that this is an alpha build, so it should be used with experimental projects. I wanted to get this version cut as soon as the test coverage was finished so that folks could start providing some concrete feedback.

There's still a long ways to go, but check it out! And, as always, we need maintainers!

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind 🎉 🎉 🎉 www.theverge.com/2023/5/3/…

Huge, huge congrats to the Google team for making it happen 💪

This incredibly cursed meme came to me today

 

A version of the "They don't know meme", with someone in the corner saying "They don't know passkeys replace passwords + MFA, are platform independent, free, and safer for everyone", while everyone else is talking about incorrect passkeys implementations

Oops, wrote 1,000 words about what I've been working on for Little CRM (in reality, the design system I'm building for Practical Computer; and why that's the first thing I'm doing)

[buttondown.email/little-cr...](https://buttondown.email/little-crm/archive/say-hello-to-tangelo/)

Also look at this little feller! 

The mascot for Little CRM: Tangelo. They are orange, have a computer screen for a face, glasses, and are wearing a sporty bow-tie

First draft of the Little CRM landing page!

Love that my internet went out right as I go to share the first draft of my landing page for Little CRM. 🫠

Want a privacy-first CRM that will allow you to:

  • Focus on your best customers
  • Reflects the modern ways indie creators are supported
  • Helps you stay focused on the marketing efforts that are actually working for you

I’m building it out in public! Sign up for updates here:

https://little-crm.com

Building in public 1

👋 I’m stuck waiting on laundry to finish, so carving out some time for an announcement!

I’ve been wanting to build something in public for a while, and there’s no time like the present.

I’ve had an idea kicking around in my head for a privacy-first CRM that’s aimed at very small companies/operations. It’s directly informed by my own experiences working in Noko, and publicizing my music.

The audience is very focused on small operations. Stuff like my music, smaller SaaSes/service businesses. Where you want *some* place to keep track of leads & seeing who your most valuable customers are, but you specifically don’t want to track a ton of data.

And there are ancillary/modern assumptions, like tracking different product purchases by default, tracking influencers/promo efforts, and some way of ranking how effective you find particular marketing channels.

Some implementation notes:

  • It’ll also be a real-world example of a passkeys first application; because right now there are way too few of those
  • It’s a chance to really use Web Push!
  • I know it’ll be a vanilla/minimal JS app; to prove again that you don’t need a ton to make a great, useful app.
  • I think I’ll also be working on a vanilla JS/HTML variant of Standerd, made by my friends over at Nicer Studios. Have to try it out before I make that call

What if I told you this was only ~10% of them?

a memento wall of kira's report cards for daycamp, even back when she was a puppy

Mesh Network made it to an art show!

Last night was the first art show at Atlas Local, and I was lucky enough that two different people wanted to collaborate!

First up, my friend Dorcas Lanyero and I collaborated in a giant Mesh Network inspired painting! It turned out incredibly; and there are still some bits we want to improve (such as actually painting on the photovolic shading/projections onto the vertical greenhouses)

A photograph of the Mesh Network painting: a verdant town ensconsed in a mountain with a waterfall nearby, a maglev train running behind the waterfall, and vertical greenhouses

 

Also: Em Blitstein embraced the inner 90s punk in us all and made a zine; with some of the liner notes and a poster design I’ve been toying around with!

A spread of Mesh Network inside Em Blitstein's zine; which includes some comments from the liner notes and a promotional poster I've been working on for the album