Ethical lessons from the open source community

Since ~2011, I’ve focused the majority of my time on open source software. Only sometimes, lately, do I take a moment to sit back and reflect on lessons learned (often the hard way).

This is always a useful exercise, as I view the open source software community as at the fore-front of many social inventions; we’re effectively, in my opinion, the best self-organized, distributed force on Earth. I’m sure, in my ignorance, other groups hold themselves in similar regard. But, it is a fruitful exercise, nonetheless, to view our community this way.

Much in the spirit of The Hacker’s Manifesto, I am sharing here a concise, inconclusive list of moral principles that I have extracted from my collective experiences in the open source community.

Approach all others with respectfulness.

Be cordial or be on your way.

Never expect anything, in return.

Others may not have the bandwidth to process the valuable information you’re offering, or inquiring about. Never expect anyone to even answer your question or respond to your ticket.

Be thankful, when it does happen.

Access to information (e.g. documentation) allows
our efforts to scale, more so than any other factor.

I gave a talk about this.

The needs of the collective are (usually)
more important than the needs of yourself

The exception makes the rule.

Sustainability via collective interest

Your project might “die” one day, fading away into nothingness, if no one else is interested.
The world may move on from the trend that is making your library popular.

All software is transient.

Entropy is good

MentalHealthError: three years later

About three years ago, I authored an essay entitled: MentalHealthError: an exception occurred. In this essay, I "came out of the closet", so to speak, to my community about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the post, I detail the dramatic unfolding of how I came to be diagnosed, and my (fairly psychedelic) experiences and perspectives held while under the care of the behavioral health services unit of the local hospital.

Over 150,000 people read that essay the weekend it was published, and I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support that the community expressed towards me.

I haven't written much about my struggles since, so this post can serve as a follow-up.

At the end of the post, I left things off on a fairly positive note, saying:


I am doing very well.

It's been about six months since this incident occurred, and I'm happy to say that I've made a full recovery. Bipolar Disorder is something I've had for a while (unknowingly), and will have for the rest of my life. I now know how to manage it, with the proper blend of awareness, medication, and sleep. It will always require extra special attention, though. It demands respect :)

Before, I was completely undiagnosed and had no idea there was even a problem. Going so long without a diagnosis also caused some very serious delusions to build, over time. That is unlikely to happen again, but I now know how to recognize any odd thought patterns and avoid psychological sinkholes if it does come up.

I also learned to rely on my family and friends to keep me in check and generally support my health as much as possible. I was a bit too self-sufficient before.

Now that I have a diagnosis, I have a much deeper understanding into the way my mind works, and know how to prevent another episode from occurring in the future.

I'm completely back to normal, before all the woo-woo entered my life, and I'm much happier and whole because of it. I'm completely grounded in material/physical/scientific reality, and it puzzles me that I could have ever not been this way. I still struggle with sleep occasionally, but I'm learning how to adapt to that.

This, as it turned out, was a fairly optimistic perspective, and with how things have played out, thus far, things have not been quite as positive as I had hoped for.

Relapse in Reality Perception

Since I wrote that post, I have been hospitalized about once per year for psychosis. I wrote about one of these "relapses", on my journal. Unfortunately, I continue to have problems occasionally, and when that happens, it becomes quite evident that this is something far beyond exercising high levels of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is key, to functioning well, of course, and is mandatory. But, it is not enough.

Schizoaffective Disorder & Borderline PTSD

My diagnosis has changed from Bipolar Disorder (Type 1) to a potentially more stigmatized Schizoaffective Disorder (Bipolar subtype). The key differentiator between these diagnoses is that a schizoaffective patient can experience delusions/hallucinations all the time, not only during periods of mania.

Luckily, my psyche is relatively well-controlled (most of the time), and I am able to recognize immediately when something that I perceive isn't based on real sensory data. Sometimes, hallucinations can be trans-sensory, which is harder to detect, and causes a sort of self-induced synesthesia to present itself.

My doctor informed me that most people that have my diagnosis are homeless.

I have also been diagnosed with “borderline” Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I take gabapentin
(scheduled) for that.

I have also switched medications from Lithium to Abilify Maintaina (a $2,000/mo injection, without insurance). It seems to work rather well for me, most of the time, with few side effects. Lithium was a horrible experience of side-effects, and the pros didn't outweigh the cons.

Lessons Learned (the hard way)

Find a doctor (psychiatrist) that you trust

I can't stress this enough.

If the person that is in charge of the chemical component of your well-being isn't trusted, there won't be a positive feedback loop built between the two of you, and your care could be sub-par, because of your lack of true participation.

Support network (can be a double-edged sword)

I'll reiterate this lesson-learned from my first post: you need a support network. I can't stress this enough. People who's judgement you can trust and who can step aside and "say something" to you when you're acting unusually (or, given enough time, at "that point of the cycle again").

I will also note that there's a subtle art to learning to balance the opinion of your support network against your own opinion of your well being. This is something you need to exercise yourself, but I think it eventually happens to everyone, so I'll share about it here: one day, you may have to "stand up" to your support network and say "I am well". However, this may not be true. Just remember not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Take life one day at a time

Some days are really though to get through, just being alive. On those days, I remind myself that tomorrow is a new day, you can't have sunshine without shadow, and that darkness reminds you to appreciate the light.

 I hope you found this post helpful, if you're struggling with things, in any capacity.

Just remember to take things one day at a time. Just keep breathing.

New Video Series!

I’ve recently decided to start making video content, in addition to tweets and blog posts. It’s a new experiment, one that I’ve dabbled with before, but never focused on myself — always capturing the world around me, instead.

So, this is an experiment.

My video rig is comprised of a Sony RX1R Mark II (built-in Zeiss 35mm f/2.0), an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III paired with 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens (highly recommended), an Atomos Ninja V (HDMI monitor) and a Rode VideoMicro (condenser mic).

Each video is getting better than the last, and my workflow is getting much better, overall (I’m working with 720p instead of 4K footage, for example — much faster to edit, which is the biggest constraint).

Here are some of the videos:

I also intend to vlog on a semi-regular basis (once I figure out how to make that seem more interesting):

All in all, I’m enjoying my new hobby. It’s a good and healthy time sink.

Please follow me on Vimeo or YouTube for more updates!

Apple Pencil Note-Taking: Why You Should Use Apple Notes, actually.

I'm a bit of a digital ink snob. I've been writing actively with digital ink for over 10 years, and there's a lot of things that most developers get wrong when developing note-taking apps. There's a plethora of them available for the iPad Pro & Pencil — only two of which I find to have acceptable inking implementations.

The iPad inking world

The first inking application we'll review is very popular, and is the typical choice for digital ink snobs (such as myself): Notability. It costs $10.

Notability has excellent, responsive, and fast, and (very) pressure-sensitive inking. It allows you to categorize your notes into a single bucket of folders (this isn't the most polished experience), is vector–based (infinite zoom) and features an infinite canvas. It is great for drawing sketches or doodles as well as simply writing down text. Notability's pressure-sensitivity is highly adjustable and configurable, but by default, the pressure gradient goes from minute thickness to tremendous thickness. This is considered to be a feature, to many, as you don't have to dive into a menu to have a totally different thickness in your pen — you just press harder (or much lighter) than usual. In addition, it also offers a Mac app that uses iCloud syncing to seamlessly view (and potentially edit) your notes on your Mac. 

Another app that is less well-known, but extremely well made is Note Always. Note Always features a great non-variable thickness (aside from velocity) pen,  with a vast number of colors to chose from, as well as a small assortment of pre-determined thickness. This app is not pressure sensitive, which I find to be surprisingly enjoyable, when writing. This "feature" allows your text to look much more uniform as you write, and can make your handwriting appear to be slightly better than it truly is. 

My favorite feature of Note Always, which I have yet to see anywhere else, is the ability to map your finger to stroke selection or erasion. This is extremely nifty, as it allows you to simply run your finger over a section of notes and move it anywhere you please (or change it's color, etc). This is the reason I love this app, and have been using it for a long time — both to plan, design, get things done, and simply explore the contents of my own mind. 

There are two categories that you can file any note-taking app in the App Store into:

  1. Text-first design. Apps like Bear and Evernote fall into this category. They typically focus on organization as a feature. 
  2. Ink-first design. Apps like Goodnotes, Notability, Notebook+, Neebo, Note Always, etc fall into this category. They typically have categorization as a secondary consideration, and text is just something they slap in there, if they do it at all. They then focus their development efforts on inking technology and workflow optimizations — in which they are typically (which some notable exceptions) lagging behind in. 

Apple Notes

Apple Notes is the only app that falls into both of these categories (text-first design, ink-first design) without making any compromises. OneNote also fits into both categories, but text suffers a bit in that application, unfortunately. You wouldn't want to use it without the inking features, as the movable text boxes surround everything you write. 

Apple Notes is one of those apps where I tried it for 5 minutes, for inking (I've been using it casually for text notes for years), and immediately dismissed it. It lacked all the things I was used to in my third-party applications: there's no ability to adjust the thickness of the pen, for example. The pencil, while novel, seemed… weird. It just seemed like Apple threw together this app haphazardly and was like "yay look here's an Apple Pencil demo for y'all!". Upon futher examination and exploration, however, I now find the opposite to be true. 

Apple Notes is hands-down the most well–designed, thought–through note taking app available for the iPad Pro. It is exceptionally well designed, and if you leave your preconceptions about what a note–taking app should do, I think you'll find yourself agreeing with me, once you give it a real try/chance. 

Allow me to present my case:

  1. Un–obvious superior inking. As I mentioned before, there are only two apps on the App Store which I consider to have acceptable inking performance: Notability and Note Always. OneNote gets an honorable mention, but it really fits in with another category of application. All others have inferior inking available, or they significantly lack in other areas (e.g. workflow, note organization, etc) — enough to dismiss them as viable options entirely.

    P.S. I've literally purchased every single note-taking app on the App Store, and have given them all a non-dismissive amount of time to show their colors. Most are truly total junk. Design matters. And I don't mean visual design — I mean UX design, thoughtfulness, pen responsiveness, etc — the truest form of engineering.

    The inking available in Apple Notes, while very unconventional, is actually hands-down the most well-engineered inking system I've ever encountered.

    You can't change the size of the pen. There is one pen. It is a pen.

    Not only is it a pen, that presents itself as having static thickness, but it is a modal pen (capable of smooth thickness gradients) that is both pressure sensitive, and also helps assist your handwriting by being of uniform thickness at the same time. I can tell you that a significant amount of engineering and thoughtfulness went into this pen — far more than any other app available. And, if you really use it as it's designed, you'll be blown away. It's the best pen I've ever used. I wish I had one in real life. But, I do — I have Apple Notes. Digital is real life, today.

    One design consideration they engineered is quite un–obvious to most users, but doesn't go unnoticed to people who have been digitally inking for 10 years. If you start a stroke with medium pressure, a medium line is drawn. Then, if you finish the stroke with firm pressure, Apple Notes knows that you intended for the entire stroke to be of the firm pressure's bold thickness, and it goes back and changes the rest of the stroke to match. This feature is very intelligent too — if you're drawing, for example, you'll present a lot of pressure gradients to Apple Notes, and it will still render them as expected. They're doing some very advanced analysis here to determine whether or not to back-fill the pressure of a stroke. I'm extremely impressed.

    In addition, the pen's thickness works extremely well for writing of all sizes. I tend to write as small as humanely possible, at times, and the precision of the strokes and the clarity it renders is unmatched by all other software and hardware options available. If you write large, you'll find that the pen renders your strokes quite nicely too. It's the world's first true "universal pen".

     Notice that there's no settings for the pen — no adjustments can be made. A strong design lesson that was instilled upon me at my tenure at Heroku was "Remove levers, even if it's very expensive to do so". In Apple Notes, there are no levers. This is not a testament to laziness — in fact, it is quite the opposite. Extraordinary efforts were put forth to ensure that no configuration is needed in the first place. 

    So, if you dismissed Apple Notes because you didn't see a bunch of settings, think again.


  • Excellent organizational abilities. Apple Note's folder (and sub-folder) structure allows you to build a very complex (if needed) heirarchy for storing your notes. The only application that has a comparable organizational system is OneNote. 
  • (Perfect) Syncing. Instantaneous real-time syncing of all notes to all devices. First-class client available on all Apple devices. Can't complain there, in any way.
  • OS Integration. Press your Apple Pencil to your lock screen, and instantly create a new note. Who wouldn't want the app that fires up to be configurable? Apple doesn't want it to be configurable, because Apple knows that Apple Notes is simply the best tool for the job. Once there are real competitors in this space (OneNote could be argued to be one), I'd like to think that Apple would make this configurable, but it would require a significant amount of currently non–public APIs to do so. e.g. this ask is not a simple one. 
  • Precise eraser and selection tool. Other apps often have a very imprecise eraser or selection tool. Apple Note's uses the Apple Pencil for these things, and is stroke-based, so erasing just one letter in the middle of a word is trivially easy. In some apps, that's impossible. A nice bonus feature of the common selection circle is that you can simply draw a line through a line of text, and it will select that text automatically. Well done!
  • Screen orientation perfection. In some apps, there's a dichotomy between portrait and landscape mode. In Note Always, the paper you're using actually determines the orientation. There is no switching between modes, without changing your paper, and possibly losing sections of your notes. In Apple Notes, screen orientation effects only the presentation zoom level of the width of the page (which is fixed). Apple Notes lacks the conventional pitch-to-zoom feature (as does actual paper), but you can easily change between different comfortable zoom levels by changing into fullscreen–landscape, landscape, or portrait mode. Very nicely done and seemless.
  • Excellent pencil tool. At first glance, the pencil tool seems childish in nature, but in reality, it is the most advanced pencil emulation I've ever come across in a note-taking app (Sketches Pro has a better pencil emulation, but it's a drawing app, with a totally different use case (and many, many configuration options). It works very well for handwriting, as well as drawing. It's an excellent tool for embellishing your notes, and I have to admit, I've fallen in love with it. A bonus feature is that if you scrape the side of the tip of the Apple Pencil across your screen, it acts exactly like a pencil would in real life, drawing a long, soft line of graphite down. Very nice touch.
  • The marker tool is not a marker, it's a highlighter. It renders its strokes beneath any ink that has been laid down, and is clearly not a marker after all, but a highlighter. 
  • Color constraints. Apple Notes, in the default "Handwritten Note" mode, gives you an option of five (5) colors. There are no other colors. You cannot change them. This is excellent — let me tell you why. The color selection is as follows: black, blue, green, yellow, and red. The red is not the tone of red I typically invoke, and this bothered me at first, until I took a closer look at it's relation to the other available colors. It's a shade of red that both opposes the shade of blue and green available, as well as compliments the yellow shade. These colors were very carefully thought out and designed, and I'm very impressed — even the order in which they are presented in the UI is clearly carefully thought out. Let me show you what I mean:.
Pasted Graphic 21.png

These are not five random tones. These are tools for thought exploration that interweave and interact with each–other, in subtle ways. Apple Notes is a seriously well–engineered application for inking, and the best one available today

The Downsides

Of course, every tool has it's downsides, and I'll present them here, concisely.

  • No ability to change the color of selected ink. They should add this, in my opinion. If you want a line to be red, you have to draw it red. You learn to adapt to this quickly.
  • No ability to change the orientation or scale of a selection. I don't care about this, as I very rarely want to do this.

That's it. Once again, I have learned a lesson from Apple that I always tend to forget — foroget what you think you want and, with an open mind use what's provided. It's usually in your best interest.

This is why I use for my email.

Thanks for your time, and I hope you enjoyed this deep overview of inking technologies, and the shocking conclusion that Apple Notes is superior to any app in the App Store. 


P.S. Here are my (sloppy to you, organized to me) notes for creating this blog post, if you're interested. Note the use of the pencil to embellish and augment the pen ink. Also the occasional use of those opposing/complimentary color tones.






First Soundtrack Scoring!

Many months ago, I created and scored my first soundtrack for a short film — Day One by Continuity Pictures (Derek Thomas).

Copyright Derek Thomas. Soundtrack by Kenneth Reitz of Infinite State.

The process was quite fun — I never watched the film before scoring — I scored as I watched the film for the first time. This allowed for a very authentic sonic expression for the audience.

I'm very pleased with the results. I believe it's some of my best musical work to date.