Simple Electron Starter

Earlier today I push my Electron Simple Starter to Github. It has dependencies only to Electron, Electron Debug, and ESlint (but no specific settings, you can add those yourself). All the basic pieces are in place to encourage good security practices. It will run without warnings or errors, and puts in place all plumbing you need for their current inter-process communication, default overrides, and process sandboxing to help you write a secure app.

Off and on I’ve been playing at writing simple programs in JavaScript using Electron. As a long-time web developer the idea of writing a web app that can be compiled to an native application across a web swath of major operating systems has massive appeal.

But when I started to write Electron apps to scratch various itches, I was quickly annoyed at the number of security warnings I got when following the project tutorials. The PHP community used to ignore bad security in tutorials to the detriment of web, so it bugs me to see that behavior crop up in other places. With my most recent side project – a Salesforce API exploration tool – I finally decided I was overdue in figuring out how to resolve all the warnings the basic quick start from the main project triggers. Using a combination of this secure electron project template and the main project’s security tutorial I finally got there.

Then I wanted to scratch a different itch, which hasn’t really gone anywhere, cause all the work to get started in a secure way felt like a mountain to climb again. The secure electron template is too opinionated for me to use directly for a small toy project, and ElectronForce has all kinds of other code already in place, so I spun my wheels for awhile. Then I finally bit the bullet and extracted the bits I needed for the next project. Once I realized I had a fairly clean baseline, I figured I would probably want it again soon (I create projects frequently to explore an idea or scratch an itch) so I created a new project template that sets the baseline and is fairly unopinionated. My goal is to have something I can grab to start writing a simple application quickly.

While I’ve made some effort to secure this project baseline, security is always the project developer’s responsibility – you are still responsible for your project’s security. Please feel free to use my template, but understand that you still have to follow best practices to keep your app secure and those will change over time. The Electron project will inevitably evolve and change their security system again, and I will not promise to keep up. Also this is a template, not a library, when some future Electron adds features I didn’t use, you’ll need to update your project.

If some specific piece of this template confuses you, please feel free to ask either here or on Github. I can try to explain as best I am able, and maybe you’ll inspire another post sometime in the future to cover it in depth.

SCDUG July 2020 – Drupal in SC State Government

Mauricio Orozco from the SC Commission for Minority Affairs gave a talk about the state of Drupal within the SC State government. In recent years Drupal has grown from a tool used on a small number of projects to the platform of choice for all new agency sites. He spoke about the state’s initiative to move more to Drupal, South Carolina Interactive and their role in supporting government projects, which agencies are moving toward Drupal, and how this is benefiting residents of South Carolina.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

Protests in America – Black Lives Matter

Over the last few weeks the US has been moved to action about policing and racial justice in response to the murder of George Floyd. As someone who is deeply concerned about these issues I always struggle to find words I feel do the topic justice; they seem too important to stay silent, too critical to speak about poorly, and too complex for me to write about well. For my limitations in what follows, I’m sorry.

As a society we are still working to understand that the violence and murders by police we see played out regularly in the new is not just the fault of the individual officers or their by-stander colleagues, but also the fault of our society as a whole. This has not happened in a vacuum. Our communities have voted too often for people and policies that brought us here instead of doing something better.

But all those are things you can read about in detail from more skilled writers than me. And if you haven’t you should.

I want to talk here more about the fact that we all know we cannot trust the police to handle complex situations, in particular protests. It is why we all set our expectations that it is simply someone else’s job to maintain calm when large crowds are involved with police.

The most basic sign of this lack of trust is that no one doubts the importance of the long-standing understanding among families raising children of color that they must teach very young kids how to de-escalate with police because they cannot trust officers not to shoot a child playing alone in the park. If that’s not something you’ve known was happening for a long time, I recommend Clint Smith’s letter to his then-future son, and more broadly his recent interview on TED Radio Hour. If you are a person of color, a woman, or mentally ill it’s long been clear that society expects you to protect yourself against police officers.

Beyond those seemly obvious, but still debated reasons, we have all long shown we don’t trust police in how we talk about protests. Until the videos of police violence from protests caused a shift in how we talk about these events in the last few weeks we had a very standard story around any riot, protest, or civil unrest which assumed police could not handle angry expressions of the first amendment.

The story starts with a nonviolent march or gathering, and then degrades into a violent riot because of a few bad people in the crowd. The police are be cast as innocent bystanders until the violence broke out, then they became heroes working to regain control for the rest of us. We see these stories on the news and wring our hands about a good message being marred by violence – too bad they didn’t learn Dr. King’s message.

If you have been to a large protest you probably know in your gut that’s not how it works in real life. In practice throughout the day the police are making decisions about how to interact with the crowd. Often this starts with little or no containment during the initial events, then the police start to restrict the group’s movement. They use increasingly aggressive tactics to try to control the physical direction of protesters putting pressure on the crowd they say they want to keep calm. Sometimes they say this is to enforce a permit, sometimes they claim to be protecting businesses, and sometimes they don’t give any reason. When things finally turn angry and violent, the police have made themselves the front line and often starting the actual fighting. There is no actual reason to make this shift in most cases, just things like a sense that protests after dark are more dangerous and the cost of policing.

An anti-Trump march in Philadelphia in 2017, well after their permit expired and out of bounds for the march, but being guided by police not confronted for another hour or two.

We have long criticized marchers for damaging small businesses, burning their own neighborhoods, while ignoring that police and politicians tried to control where protests were held and used force to keep people in their neighborhoods.

A wet older man standing in front of the water cannon truck with lots of younger people on the ground around him.

Reporters, politicians, and police would ignore all the research of large crowd dynamics, and blame the crowd for doing what large groups of angry people do when pressed – fight back.

In the US we started to assume it was the protester’s job to stay nonviolent in the face of extreme police response during the 1960’s and 1970’s when the civil rights and antiwar movements showed it was possible. It is also important to remember that while there were amazing peaceful protests in that period, there were also large riots, rebellions, and general civil unrest. We remember the great example set an inspired few, not the larger contexts of events that unfolded.

Riot police, and other officers in the shade talking with protesters.
The protesters at this event invited the police into the shade and offered them water and fresh fruit. It was meant to help keep the officers calm on a hot day, because we could not trust them to remain calm without our help.

Just because we want large protests expressing anger at our government to be nonviolent that does not mean we can reasonably expect every group to manage the needed level of organization and training to make that possible. We have a paid, trained, group of people we already expect to show up for these events – why don’t we assume they are going to help make sure these events are empowering expressions of our first amendment rights? Why do we assume that the unpaid citizens exercising their rights need to be able to handle situations that police cannot?

Currently our police are badly trained at de-escalation, even though it’s been shown to keep them safer. That training will cost money, but we could cover that by cutting funding of unneeded weapons like armored personnel carriers. I know some people who can run that kind of training – trust me they would do a lot of training for the annual maintenance budget on one of those things.

People at the side of the road with signs that read: No Human Being is Illegal. Families belong together. My Family Came as Refugees. No Heat No Ice. Keep Families together. And other slogans.

Yes, being a police officer is hard. I agree with the many officers complaining that we expect them to do all kinds of things they shouldn’t be asked to do because yes they need better solutions around them. And of course they should expect they will come home safely at the end of their shifts. But just because a job is hard, and can be dangerous, does not make it okay to do the job badly – in fact that seems like an argument to do the job well.

The flaws in our system are not the fault of individual officers – no one officer can reform the system (although any one of four police officers could have saved George Floyd’s life by stopping his murder). No one mayor, police chief, nor any one person has the power to make the kind of change we need to make our communities safer for everyone in them. Everyone is responsible for their own personal behavior, but dismissing gross misconduct including murders as the acts of a few “bad apples” instead of recognizing that they are part of a system that our society built is an injustice in itself.

The system is well past needing simple reforms being debated in Washington and many state legislatures. Maybe if we’d really reformed things after the police riots of the 1960’s, when departments were smaller and officers less protected from consequences, we could have used incremental measures. Now we need drastic sweeping changes. We need to understand that Camden, NJ’s choice to disband and rebuild their department was a first step that shows you’re serious but doesn’t mean you’ve made enough progress. After you totally reboot you still have to be ready to totally rebuild.

Handmade sign reading Are you going bkwds? or are you going fwds?
We are going forwards, we don’t have a choice, the question is where will that take us?

SC Dug May 2020: Virtual Backgrounds

This month’s SC DUG meeting featured Will Jackson from Kanopi Studios talking about his virtual background and office.

Before everyone was learning to use Zoom virtual backgrounds, Will had built out a full 3D room for his background, including family pictures and other fun details. He talked about what he built and may inspire you to try some more personalized than swaying palm tree and night skies.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons.

If you are interested in giving a practice talk, leave me a comment here, contact me through Drupal.org, or find me on Drupal Slack. We’re excited to hear new voices and ideas. We want to support the community, and that means you.

Images from NYC 2020

Back when we were allowed to go out and about, my wife and I spent a few days in New York City so she could attend a conference. We explored a few of the art museum and I got some time to just hang around Central Park and take pictures. I had started to post this gallery a while back, but got distracted by life and didn’t finish. So as a reminder that there is a larger world out there, and we’ll get to go back to exploring it one day I figured I’d finally get this finished.

The first day we just wondered a bit, including taking the Station Island Ferry across and back to get a few classic pictures.

A friend let us use her membership to the Met. So we spent a long day walking the exhibits. Since you can get better pictures of more or less all their art than most people are likely to take in the galleries (and no small number of people were taking pictures of whole works) I focused on the faces within larger works.

We also popped into MOMA on Free Friday and the Guggenheim on their give what you like Saturday evening. Those events were both about the art, and clearly for some in New York about being seen at those open chances to explore.

We explored Central Park together and separately. I love getting a few hours to just stroll through a place with my camera. Trying to take a mix of classic pictures and few that are less common.

Before too long we can go back to having adventures and getting out. But in the meantime stay safe as best you can.

SC DUG April 2020: Remote Work Round Table

This month’s SC DUG was a round table discussion on working remotely during the Covid-19 lock down. We had actually planned this topic before the crisis emerged in full, but found ourselves having to pivot our talking points a fair bit.

The discussion centered on things that people are dealing with, even those of us who work remotely on a regular basis. A few resources were shared by people on the call, including Pantheon’s Donut Slack Bot.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

Thoughts for the Newly Remote Worker

Don’t expect to get a good routine down in the current conditions.

About three years ago I wrote up some of my thinking on what you need to succeed in remote work and I still stand by most of that advice. But right now many of those suggestions may need to be goals you are working towards.

A few days ago my friend Johanna, who like me routinely works from home, learned she’ll be working from home while she and her partner try their hand at homeschooling and offered this tweet:

She’s both absolutely right (and smart, so if you’re on Twitter you should follow her), but also a little wrong. This is not what work from home normally is like, but this is what work from home is like in this moment.

Right now a huge number of people are suddenly working remote for the first time. Some of you probably wanted to this for a long time and are suddenly getting the chance, and some didn’t really want a remote job but now are forced to try it.

While some companies already have the tools and habits in place to make remote work successful, most probably don’t. What’s more, many people are now also doing childcare/homeschooling at the same time. So let’s be clear this is a terrible way to start working remotely. But here we are, so let’s talk about ways to use enough duct tape to make it work.

Your Boss

Lots of people probably have bosses that are deeply uncomfortable with this whole thing. They may have fought allowing remote work for long time because they worry about monitoring remote work and have no experience with remote management–those fears are likely still there and will put them off their game. Managers who are uncertain about basic working conditions can make bad choices that make a bad situation worse – like trying to monitor everyone on video conference all day. I’ve worked remote for bosses that didn’t trust me if they couldn’t see me, it’s hard and makes it hard to be successful. Long-term if they don’t learn to adjust you should probably find someone better to work for, but in the short run that’s probably not an option (and hopefully they will adjust) so let’s talk about strategies you can use to get through.

Check in early in the day so they know you’re up and running.

This should be something informal like a quick email to verify a meeting or other detail, a chat message just greeting them warmly, or something similar. Basically give them a sense that you are around and active before they ping you to find out if you remembered to wake up. You don’t want to sound needy or like you’re asking their permission to do work, as that can encourage micromanagement instincts.

Check in again at the end of the day, letting them know you’re leaving.

Again this should be something informal and simple that gives them, and you, a sense of closure to your work day. This helps avoid them feeling like you just disappeared while they adjust to the routine.

Leave a documented work trail with timestamps.

Think emails, notes from meetings, hours tracking and billing systems, Word documents with update timestamps, version control systems, and other things that you can point to that will remind them you really were working even though they didn’t see you (and if things get ugly something you can show others to prove you were working).

Start early or work late a few times early on.

Again this is about helping them see that you really are working hard even though they can’t see you. You still need to maintain work/life balance so don’t do this every day, or even most days, just enough that they are able to notice the effort in a crisis.

Suggest new or better tools to help support the sudden remote culture.

They probably know things aren’t working super well, and a chance to blame tools may be welcome. So research and suggest tools that make things better. Try to spot the things that have them uneasy about the situation and offer tools that might help with those challenges.

Your Tools

On the topic of tools, if your team just went fully remote you probably are lacking some tools to do all the things a great remote team has in place. You aren’t going to fix that overnight, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here – a tool that your team uses is better than the perfect tool that no one adopts.

So if you need to pick a chat client try the low hanging fruit first. You’re a Microsoft shop with 365 setup? Use Teams. You a Google apps shop? Use Hangouts. Salesforce? Chatter. Use Zoom a lot? Well their chat is terrible so use Slack (everyone else should probably default to Slack too). Some of those tools are far better than others but each has a niche they serve very well, and maybe your team will switch one day but get started now and worry about using it really well later.

Your Family

Don’t sweat the kids and pets interrupting. My current team was nearly 100% remote before all this started. We’re professional, have a strong team work ethic, and work hard to make sure our clients see that. And you know what, people’s kids and pets get in the way sometimes. Rarely does it matter for more than a minute or two. Right now, we’re running into a lot more of that than is normal. So are our clients. It’s going to be just fine.

Normally we try to limit interruptions, but honestly pets and kids are welcome cute distraction more often than not. My dogs wander my office and often end up on camera. My boss’s cat frequently strolls across his desk during check ins. Other people’s children come in and wave to all the people on their parent’s computer screen. Sure there are times we need to focus and someone’s dog really really needs to bark at that cat outside the window. Or a child needs their parent’s attention the very minute we’re trying to solve a hard problem. It’s just part of how things flow, and within my team we understand it as a part of work from home since it gives us all more time with the people that matter most to us all (hint: not our colleagues). Family, in whatever form they come, are part of what makes us who we are and allows us to see each other as a more complete person.

Yes, in this moment when kids are suddenly off from school with few places having formed any reasonable plan for education continuity, even for experienced teams we are expecting it will be disruptive. The entire American workforce is going to have to learn to deal with either their kids, or their colleagues kids, suddenly being around. Do your best to maintain focus and professionalism, but expect cracks, and let those imperfections help you get to know your colleagues better.

The next few weeks or months will be a lot of remote work duct taping even for experienced teams. You, your team, and your families, will learn to get better at this over time. Embrace that you’re learning, expect mistakes, and just plain do the best you can at the moment.

Crash Teaching Online

This is a guest post by my wife Elizabeth Georgian. She’s a professor at a local university and is one of many scrambling to move all her courses online.

This has been an interesting week for academics as we move to online instruction, perhaps for the first time.

At my university, we heard on Monday that we’re going online next week. Needless to say, this has been a pretty chaotic few days. Here’s what I’ve learned and the order in which I found it helpful to tackle the problem. For context, I’m a history professor at a regional public university, teaching four classes, with a lot of general education students. I mostly teach face-to-face, but I’m online in the summers.

Email your students right away

Contact them even if it’s just to let them know that you’re working on a plan. Give them a time frame of when you expect to be able to share more information. If you’re planning on taking your course in the Learning Management System (aka an LMS such as Blackboard or Moodle) offline while you work (more on that in a minute), tell them that, otherwise they’ll panic. Most importantly, let them know that you care about them and that you know it’s a stressful time for everyone. If your counseling center is offering remote help, tell them how to access it.

Let go of trying to be perfect and forget about best practices.

We aren’t teaching online—that takes a lot of time to do well—we’re teaching remotely in an emergency. The most helpful article I’ve read so far was “Please do a bad job of putting your courses online.

Figure out what’s most important for the rest of the semester.

Here are some things that might be your top priority:

  • Delivering content
  • Helping them complete a particular project
  • Supporting students with limited technology
  • Making sure you set up your classes in a way that allows you to care for your own health needs or for your loved ones.

You can’t do it all and now’s not the time to try, so decide what matters most right now.

Ask what technology your students can access where they are.

Depending on your student body and location, maybe all of them will have laptops and high speed internet, but some of us teach at institutions where students may need to finish classes on their smartphone or are returning to rural areas with limited internet access.

Decide if you want to teach synchronously, asynchronously, or both?

Asynchronous instruction is easier for students who have to share computers with partners, who are switching to remote work or learning, it accommodates parents who are suddenly home schooling, and it helps students with limited internet access. But there’s a benefit to real time options too. For some of our students, we are the adult in their life they feel connected to and it’s important to preserve that connection. Optional video office hours or reading discussions can help them stay connected to the class and the university without hurting their grades if they can’t participate.

Plan ahead and minimize changes.

The more of the class structure and assignments you can preserve, the less confusing it will be for your students and the easier it will be on you. Free response assignments will take longer to grade but are faster and easier to set up in most LMSs. If you’re concerned about your students’ access to high-speed internet, keep new work based in printed resources your students already have whenever possible. Avoid timed tests or quizzes or ones that require remote proctoring. Planning assignments you can send by email or snail mail if needed will save you time and effort later.

Find or become a mentor.

If you haven’t taught online, try to find a mentor in your discipline who is comfortable with your LMS. If you have, help out your less experienced colleagues. Distance learning experts are over loaded and they may not understand the needs in your particular discipline.

Hide your course from your students temporarily (warn them first).

Students tend to get nervous when they see you making changes in the LMS. Particularly if you’re making substantial changes or creating new assignments, you will set something up wrong, screw up a deadline, or rethink an assignment, and you want to be able to fix that stuff and make changes before you take the course live. Just don’t forget to reopen access.

Communicate regularly with your students.

It’s a lot easier for them to disconnect from online class than it is in a face-to-face class, particularly right now when they’re stressed, suffering from vacation syndrome, or both. Since they may not be used to online learning, they will need more routine reminders about deadlines, particularly if you’ve adjusted them due to an extended spring break.

Don’t forget to be human.

It’s fine, even helpful, to let your students know you’re stressed too or that you don’t have all the answers. If you’re doing video lectures or office hours, go ahead and introduce them to the people or pets in your home that may wander on camera—I always let my students meet my two greyhounds before they show up uninvited. Now is the time to set some boundaries between work and life, maybe that means not checking your email after dinnertime or taking a walk at lunchtime. Taking care of yourself will help you be a better teacher.

Two greyhounds laying on beds on a hardwood floor.
Henry and Petey.

SC DUG March 2020

This month’s SC DUG featured Chris from MindGrub and Kaylan from Pantheon talking about Load Testing.

Launching a website can be a nerve-wracking experience, often times with developers working up until the wire trying to finish that one last feature. If only there was a crystal ball that would show you a vision of how your site would fare when the masses were set loose upon it.

Good news for you, there is! Load testing.

View the slides from this talk.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.

SC DUG February 2020

Suggestions for learning the skills we all need to advance.

This month for SC DUG I gave a talk on the importance of self-directed learning for professional development as a developer — or really any other modern career. It was an extension and revision of my December blog post on the same topic. The presentation runs a hair over 30 minutes, and parts of the discussion are included as well.

We frequently use these presentations to practice new presentations, try out heavily revised versions, and test out new ideas with a friendly audience. If you want to see a polished version checkout our group members’ talks at camps and cons. So if some of the content of these videos seems a bit rough please understand we are all learning all the time and we are open to constructive feedback.

If you would like to join us please check out our up coming events on MeetUp for meeting times, locations, and remote connection information.