This is a feeling I’ve noticed from engineers and designers I’ve worked with in the past, and it’s a sentiment that’s a lot more transparent with the broader web community at large. You can hear it in Medium posts and on indie blogs, whether in conversations about CSS, web performance, or design tools.
The sentiment is that front-end development is a problem to be solved: “if we just have the right tools and frameworks, then we might never have to write another line of HTML or CSS ever again!” And oh boy what a dream that would be, right?
Well, no, actually. I certainly don’t think that front-end development is a problem at all.
What's behind this feeling? Well, designers want tools that let them draw pictures and export a batch of CSS and HTML files like Dreamweaver promised back in the day. On the other end, engineers don’t want to sweat accessibility, web performance or focus states among many, many other things. There’s simply too many edge cases, too many devices, and too many browsers to worry about. The work is just too much.
Consequently, I empathize with these feelings as a designer/developer myself, but I can’t help but get a little upset when I read about someone's relationship with Bootstrap or design systems, frameworks or CSS-in-JS solutions — and even design tools like Sketch or Figma. It appears that we treat front-end development as a burden, or something we want to void altogether by abstracting it with layers of tools.
We should see front-end development as a unique skillset that is critical to the success of any project.
I believe that’s why frameworks and tools like Bootstrap are so popular; not necessarily because they’re a collection of helpful components, but a global solution that corrects an inherent issue. And when I begin to see “Bootstrap” in multiple resumés for front-end applications, I immediately assume that we're going to be at odds with our approaches to design and development.
Bootstrap isn’t a skill though — front-end development is.
And this isn’t me just being a curmudgeon... I hope. I genuinely want tools that help us make better decisions, that help us build accessible, faster, and more beautiful websites in a way that pushes the web forward. That said, I believe the communities built up around these tools encourage designing and developing in a way that's ignorant of front-end skills and standards.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Bootstrap, or CSS-in-JS, or CSS Modules, or fancy design tools. But building our careers around the limitations of these tools is a minor tragedy. Front-end development is complex because design is complex. Transpiling our spoken language into HTML and CSS requires vim and nuance, and always will. That’s not going to be resolved by a tool but by diligent work over a long period of time.
I reckon HTML and CSS deserve better than to be processed, compiled, and spat out into the browser, whether that’s through some build process, app export, or gigantic framework library of stuff that we half understand. HTML and CSS are two languages that deserve our care and attention to detail. Writing them is a skill.
I know I’m standing on a metaphorical soapbox here, and perhaps I’m being a tad melodramatic, but front-end development is not a problem to be solved. It’s a cornerstone of the web, and it’s not going away any time soon.
If you sat down to eat at any point and in any part of the U.S. in the 1800s, nothing on your plate was quite what it seemed. The level of vile, often toxic contamination in basic consumer products was almost unimaginable to modern folk raised under the auspices of the FDA.
Your morning coffee? If it wasn’t already mixed with chicory, there was probably quite a bit of sawdust mixed in, with scorched and ground peas, beans, or dandelion seeds for color. The honey in your tea? Sweetened corn syrup complete with wax “honeycomb”. The spices on your table? Finely ground coconut shells, burnt rope, or straight up floor sweepings. The flour in your bread? Mixed with crushed stone, gypsum, or dirt. The brown sugar in your grandma’s cookies? Spiked with ground insects. The scotch in grandpa’s after supper tipple? Poisonous wood alcohol dyed honey brown. The milk in Junior’s glass? Certainly watered down, almost definitely whitened with chalk or plaster of paris, often dosed with a preservative like formaldehyde to keep it “fresh,” and occasionally topped with pureed calf brains to mimic the “cream” on top. The fact that past generations managed to survive their own kitchens was a medical marvel in its own right, and those dark days are only barely behind us. We’ve only made it this far thanks largely to the efforts of one zealous chemist, and a few brave, iron-stomached volunteers dubbed the Poison Squad.
As the Trump administration continues to roll back regulations on everything from worker safety to environmental destruction, a new book from Deborah Blum—The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century—takes us back to a time when the very idea of government-enforced regulations was laughable.
In 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department. A farmer’s son, he was horrified at the additive-riddled state of the American food industry, and once he assumed his new office, he began methodically investigating food and drink fraud.
During the course of his campaign, he became famous for conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who volunteered to test tainted food products for the good of the nation, and who came to be known as “The Poison Squad.” Ultimately, Wiley won—the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was known as “Dr. Wiley’s Law”—but he spent 30 years fighting inside and outside the lab to help make America’s kitchen safer. In doing so, he willingly risked the lives of dozens of patriotic young volunteers, a decision that still raises serious ethical questions.
In an echo of modern medical trials, which often draw in poor and working class subjects, many of the applicants for what would become Dr. Wiley’s “Poison Squad” were financially struggling young clerks who responded to the lure of three square meals a day, recruited to test potentially poisonous substances. The volunteers had to record everything they ate and drank, record their weight and pulse rate before every meal, collect their urine and feces for lab analysis, and be examined by a doctor twice a week.
The first round of trials started with the cleaning product borax, then also a popular preservative, because Wiley expected it to be fairly harmless. By the study’s end, half of the twelve men had dropped out due to ill health. Wiley’s attitude on borax changed as a result; “It should not, I believe, be put in foods of any kind except when they are plainly marked, and even not then except in special cases.”
The next trial featured salicylic acid on the menu, and had an even more immediate effect on the Squad, who began exhibiting signs of nausea and dizziness almost immediately after digging into their spiked victuals. The final report showed that the men had experienced chronic stomach pain, appetite loss, and weight loss, and Wiley’s chemistry team found that ingesting salicylic acid on a regular basis results in a “depressing and harmful influence upon the digestion and health and general metabolic activities of the body.”
When it came time for the Squad to test out sodium sulfate, a salt of the preservative sulfurous acid (a close sibling of the highly corrosive sulfuric acid), the results were grim. Only nine of the twelve members made it to the end, and two became so badly ill that the scientists halted the study altogether for fear of the others becoming sicker. This result alarmed Wiley to no end, and kicked off yet another crusade against toxic preservatives.
“Yeah, from our modern perspective that Poison Squad experiment looks so ethically dubious, and obviously it would never be approved by one of today’s Institutional Review Boards,” Blum agrees. “But Wiley himself said that when he started the Poison Squad tests, he himself didn’t realize how dangerous the additives were. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t taking a deliberate risk with the health of these young men because he was; I think, frankly, he had reached a point where he was desperately worried about the effects of these additives on Americans across the country, and thought that only an experiment of this nature would illuminate the problem and make a difference.”
“And these young men really believed they were doing something good for their country, and they were proud of that public service. They hand-painted a sign outside the Poison Squad dining room that read None But the Braved Dare Eat the Fare’.”
All of this begs the question: when presented with evidence that so much commercially available food and drink was tainted, why would the government have opposed food safety regulations in the first place? Why did it take a crew of human guinea pigs publicly risking their lives to goad lawmakers into action?
“It seems so surprising today, because we’ve grown up in a time of consumer protection regulations and agencies but in the 19th century, none of those existed,” Blum explains. “No FDA, no EPA, there was no precedent for such federal protective agencies and acts. And when it came up—as it certainly did with food and drink starting in the 1880s—there was real push back. First, from businesses who enjoyed operating without any government-set limits on what could do. They gave an enormous amount of money to both congressmen and government officials friendly to their viewpoints and succeeded in killing proposed food and drug safety regulations for decades.”
As Blum also explained, one of the biggest obstacles that Wiley and other food safety crusaders faced was a very American problem: in short, people didn’t want to be told what to do or what to eat—and even if they were literally eating poison, those who opposed these kinds of food safety regulations wanted the choice, dammit! The debate over individual rights versus the common good hamstrung progress in this arena for far longer than was sensible or even reasonable, but, as Blum says, when the 1906 Food and Drug law did finally pass, it established for the first time that the U.S. government considered protecting consumers part of its obligation, a precedent that stands as a landscape-altering moment in this country.
As Blum notes, another reason for this divide lay in the States’ continued reliance on capitalist, as opposed to more socialist, modes of thinking, and the government’s often uneasy balancing act between supporting American business and protecting American citizens. Across the ocean, Europe had already gotten a handle on its own food safety strategy well before Dr. Wiley set off on his crusade. Their model was more precautionary—if there is evidence of possible harm from an additive, let’s remove it until we know that it’s safe—than the States’ wait and see if it kills anyone approach, which is why many more additives are still restricted in Europe than in this country.
And to be clear, adulterated food and poisonous additives definitely killed a lot of people, from babes in arms to war veterans. Honestly, given the amount of toxins, garbage, and poison that lurked within an overwhelming percentage of American food products during this time, it’s almost impressive that more people didn’t fall ill and die in droves. Chances are that unless they were filthy rich (and even then) your ancestors were eating a lot of dangerous garbage. Were people of this period blessed with iron stomachs? Was there a sort of tolerance to bad food that we’ve since lost, or that has morphed, perhaps, into a tolerance of modern junk food?
“I recently heard the medical historian Howard Merkel describe the 1800s in the United States as the century of the ‘great American stomachache;’ contrary to our ideas of rosy-cheeked, farm-fresh health back in the day, people were really not eating wonderfully well,” Blum explains. “Some of that was lousy and even toxic food products, and some of that was the lack of any real understanding of nutrition. And, of course, fairly primitive medicine, including the lack of antibiotics, so people really did not live that long. Average life expectancy in the year 1900 was about 46 years for men and 48 years for women.
“But we also didn’t have good public health programs and tracking in place so it’s very difficult to know with precision—except for some extreme cases—when food was directly lethal,” she continues. “By ‘extreme,’ I mean things like ‘embalmed milk’ scandals in which the dairy industry’s use of formaldehyde as a preservative directly killed children or the use of toxic dyes in candy (arsenic for green, lead for red and yellow) poisoned consumers. The latter should remind us that junk food, pre-regulation, was even worse for us than junk food today!”
So not everyone was getting sick at the dinner table, but enough people were that the problem became impossible to ignore, even from the most anti-regulation corners. At the time, the fight for “pure food” legislation was held up as a bipartisan cause, and by and large, the government officials pushing for food regulations were Republicans—ironic now, given modern Republicans’ severe allergy to any kind of regulations at all. These 19th century lawmakers made a conscious choice to uphold their farmer-heavy constituency interests over their own inclination towards coziness with business and market interests, which resulted in the passage of landmark food safety legislation like the 1938 Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act that created the modern FDA.
However, in the ensuing decades, the idea of the government regulating anything at all seems to have shifted firmly into the liberal camp, and the Trump administration in particular stands to undo everything that Dr. Wiley spent his lifetime fighting to achieve.
In 2016, Trump told pharmaceutical executives that his administration would cut 75% to 80% of FDA regulations, “at a level no one has ever seen before.” One of his biggest proposed food-related changes would bring the nation’s multiple food safety enforcers like the FDA and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the auspices of a single agency—The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which presents immediate issues and runs the risk of politicizing food safety in dangerous ways (like for example, causing the outsize influence of powerful meat interest groups to balloon).
He’s also pushed through legislation overhauling USDA rules for meat inspection at pork processing plants, which workers fear will lead to a sped-up pace and resultant injuries. In general, the kinds of work environments regulated by the FDA—slaughterhouses, meat processing plants, farms—are generally full of sharp things and slippery machinery, and the human beings tasked with their operation tend to benefit from more regulations, not less.
“I kind of picture [Wiley] rolling in his grave,” Blum says when asked to describe her opinion of how the chemist would view Trump’s war on safety regulations. “His bottom line was that consumers come first and I think he’d be appalled, as many of us are, at the current administration’s efforts to undo many of our hard-won protections. We’re still far better off than we were in the 19th century, [but] the most important issue at the moment is not to go backwards. The Trump administration has indefinitely delayed some of the FSMA enforcement provisions. It’s even proposed that some regulation of food safety be returned from the FDA to the more Agribusiness-friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wiley was at the agriculture department and he would be the first to say that this would be a huge mistake. He’s a reminder that these protections were hard-fought in his day and we should do everything we can to keep them.”
On paper, Tuesday was a good day for Democrats. They took the House for the first time in eight years. Several important Governorships (in advance of post-Census 2020 redistricting battles) were won. Notably vile Republicans like Kris Kobach, Scott Walker, and Dana Rohrabacher lost. The high-visibility Senate races Democrats lost (Missouri, Tennessee) were pipe dreams anyway. You already knew that Florida sucks, hard. So you're not sad because "The Democrats did badly."
You're also not sad because Beto lost, or Andrew Gillum lost, or any other single candidate who got people excited this year fell short. They're gonna be fine. They will be back. You haven't seen the last of any of them. Winning a Senate race in Texas was never more than a long shot. Gillum had a realistic chance, but once again: It's Florida.
No, you're sad for the same reason you were so sad Wednesday morning after the 2016 Election. You're sad because the results confirm that half of the electorate – a group that includes family, neighbors, friends, random fellow citizens – looked at the last two years and declared this is pretty much what they want. You're sad because any Republican getting more than 1 vote in this election, let alone a majority of votes, forces us to recognize that a lot of this country is A-OK with undisguised white supremacy. You're sad because once again you have been slapped across the face with the reality that a lot of Americans are, at their core, a lost cause. Willfully ignorant. Unpersuadable. Terrible people. Assholes, even.
You were hoping that the whole country would somehow restore your faith in humanity and basic common decency by making a bold statement, trashing Republicans everywhere and across the board. You wanted some indication that if you campaigned hard enough, rednecks and white collar bloodless types alike could be made to see the light that perhaps the levers of power are not best entrusted to the absolute worst people that can be dredged up from Internet comment sections running on platforms of xenophobia, nihilism, and racism. In short, you wanted to see some evidence that corruption, venality, bigotry, and proud ignorance are deal-breakers for the vast majority of Americans.
And now you're sad because it's obvious that they aren't. Even where horrible Republicans like Walker or Kobach lost, they didn't lose by much.
So I get it. It's depressing. There's no amount of positives that can take away the nagging feeling that lots and lots of people in this country are just…garbage. They're garbage human beings just like the president they adore. These people are not one conversation, one fact-check, and one charismatic young Democratic candidate away from seeing the light. They're reactionary, mean, ignorant, uninteresting in becoming less ignorant, and vindictive. They hate you and they will vote for monsters to prove it.
Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.
This seems like the right place to tell the story of the dude who drove me to the airport the other day. His other job, apparently, was owning a gun store, and when talking about guns his opinions were informed and reasonable , e.g. "banning bump stocks won't stop school shootings, but we should require gun owners to go through safety training and have proper gun safes," ok, I can see that. But then the conversation took a hard right turn into Fox News conspiracy land: all politicians are corrupt, Planned Parenthood spends 10x as much money on lobbying as the NRA, etc. etc. etc. and I just didn't know what to say.
How many words fit on a sampler? I don’t want to get this as a tattoo.
“Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.”
Yes. You’re not powerful enough to stop someone from redeeming themselves any more than you are powerful enough to make them redeem themselves. As long as you’re not actively working to prevent them from doing the right thing, you’re good.
i told ya we’ve canceled discourse n we’ve moved on to homesteading skills
it’s just choppin wood and harvesting vegetables and herbs from here on out
Please hit me with more homesteading concept drawings
Good reference material here.
My brain during sane hours of the day: “I have a good job with benefits, a stable social network with supportive friends and family, and I’m a nerd who thrives on advanced technology. Also, I dislike the taste of fish.”
My brain on Tumblr at 3:30am: “Y’know, abandoning all technology and leaving civilization behind looks like a lot of fun! And I could teach the kids how to build a fish trap!”
“You know when you’re trying to schedule a time to meet with someone, and you do 20 back and forth emails to find the date and time that works for everybody? It is the most annoying thing especially for those of us who are just in meetings all the time. So earlier this year, I found this app called Calendly and what it is, is you just send a link and then the other person finds the time on your calendar and just automatically schedules it. It’s like heaven. The way it works is you put in your calendar constraints. So, if you want to have availability open from nine to five, Monday through Friday, you do that. You can also change it and be like, ‘Oh, I’m not available from one to five or whatever might be.’ It’s very customizable, and then it only shows the other people the dates and times that you are available. It’s awesome. … I think there’s premium versions where you can have more people, but in my experience I’m just using it one-to-one. So, it definitely works that way. I’ve also seen people use it who work in a customer service scenario where they’re scheduling meetings to introduce new clients to their product or what have you, and so they set it up and then they’re just like, ‘Here, pick your time that works.’ I’ve seen people use it for events. So, if you’re at a conference and you’re scheduling a bunch of meetings, you can use it that way for that week to make sure that everyone can just schedule in and it’s not all these back and forths.”
“The Instant Pot is a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker. It’s a multi-tool thing in your kitchen that lets you cook kind of everything. It is remarkable. I actually had the instant pot sitting in my house for a couple of years and never used it, and I finally pulled it out earlier this year, and I don’t know why I waited so long. You can make so much with it so quickly. You can sauté in it. You can do roasts in it. You can make soups. I boil eggs in it. I make the most perfect soft-boiled eggs every time. I love it. .. You could put 20 eggs in it and it will be absolutely perfect every time, because it’s the exact same pressure and there’s no juggling when did the water start boiling and all of that stuff. I come from a family where my mother has every single kitchen gadget known to humankind. I somehow end up with all of these kitchen gadgets, and this is a one-stop shop. You don’t need a rice cooker, and a pressure cooker, and a slow cooker, and all of these different things because it literally does everything. I actually just heard from a friend who for some reason her building isn’t going to have gas for a while. So, she’s switching to the instant pot as her primary tool for cooking. I’m seeing more and more cookbooks coming out. I just got one that was this 25 Affordable Easy Instant Pot Recipes. So, this is becoming kind of a craze and a thing that people are using. We’re seeing more and more experimentation and more and more options of how to use it.”
“I am a little bit neurotically obsessed with packing efficiency. I will sometimes go through YouTube rabbit holes of the best way to pack things. It’s kind of a problem but also I travel so much, and I hate checking in luggage. I don’t like to bring a lot of stuff, so I am constantly looking for more efficient ways of bringing the least amount of things especially when I’m going on month long multi-city trips. So, packing cubes are one of the things that I started introducing into my travels. They’re basically like little bags, and instead of just folding your clothes up and throwing it in the suitcase, you fold your clothes up and you stick them in these little bags, and it lets you pack in more, more efficiently. …You can make them sit in whatever ways, which is this nice tidy collection. So, if you do have to pack a little bit more and don’t want it sort of popping out everywhere, these bags help contain it. I particularly like a brand or rather a style, and the brand that I use is Eagle Creek. They’re a little more stable and structured in size as opposed to once that are more flimsy. You can pack them, you can just fold your clothes as you would and stuff them in or you can roll your clothes. There are lots of different ways to use them.”
The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G. Johnson
“This is a book that I always have. Once I read it for the first time, I was like, ‘This is foundational and instrumental to my feminism, to my activism work,’ and the reason I love it so much is because it takes these very big concepts of systems of oppression. In this case specifically, talking about patriarchy and distills it down into very easy to understand language. It takes it out of the theoretical academic realm and explains it in ways that’s really easy for folks to understand, and I found it to be so instrumental in my understanding, or the early days of understanding feminism that I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to get a better sense of what is patriarchy. What are systems of oppression? How do they affect you? How do they affect our world, and what do we do about it? .. It doesn’t make it any simpler. It just makes it more accessible. It uses language that we can understand. It makes it more available to more people instead of keeping it trapped in these academic spaces.”
History vs Women: The Defiant Lives that THEY Don’t Want You To Know
“We profiled 25 women who have been erased from history. The book actually came out of a series that we did at Feminist Frequency called the Ordinary Women where we told the stories of five women that we thought were very interesting and that we wanted other people to learn about. So, with History Vs. Women, we obviously got to tell more stories and dive in a little deeper. I think one of the things that this book does is we’re trying to root the fact that women have been written out of history and the erasure of women’s experiences, women’s lives, women’s contributions to our contemporary time and the way women are treated today. So, we write in the book about why you should care about these women. Why you should care about these forgotten stories and how it affects us today and in the future. It was really important to us to be intersectional in the way that we approach the women that we chose. It is intergenerational, so we tried to do a very wide span of history, and we tried to look globally as we could.”
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