Mark Smith’s Newsletter - Saturday 10th April, 2021

Google vs Oracle, Mullenweg vs Wix, CoinbaseIPO, Microsoft AR/VR, english in the EU, TikTok Captions, LG, Yahoo Answers, hacking/cracking, JS classes, MediaQueries, blogrolls, Clubhouse, self-hosting

Hello and welcome to my newsletter!

Another season 2 instalment…

Make is crap - Imagine a world where all software feedback was this good

The name of the first news section this week, deserves a bit of explanation via the medium of bullet points:

  • I listen to the Fake Doctors Real Friends Podcast. It’s a great show. I really enjoy listening to it. They have an advert running at the minute for “Fight Camp”, a retreat you get sent to / go to to learn how to fight, which struck me as a bit weird given the show’s premise, even if they’re fake doctors, it’s still weird

  • Last week my old employer bought a company called Less Pain Software, which isn’t in itself weird, but given the other bullet points, it’s weird 

  • For the past 2 weeks I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and the lower part of my body is tingling, sometimes from the waist down, other times just my feet, it feels like milk is trickling over my nervous system, similar to a local anaesthetic, something I had many times when I was young having spent a lot of time in and out of hospital. It mostly wears off after about 30-60 mins. But that’s pretty freaking weird

  • Broadway inspired user feedback video, great video, but kinda weird that it appeared this week IMO

  • There are several other bullet points I could add here, but honestly they are too weird 

With that out of the way, on with the mostly non-weird show...


Fight camp

The big news at the start of the week was the ending of the Google vs Oracle Android Java APIs trial. This has been going on for many many years, having started in an era when APIs were just getting popular as a way to build software online, it concludes in a world where APIs are everywhere. Some comments from Mozilla and summary+analysis from ZDNet on what it means for the wider software industry.

The week ended with a Matt Mullenweg vs Wix situation. A large proportion of the web runs on the open source software Wordpress which authored by Automattic, the company founded by Mullenweg, and the community of contributors. He’s written a piece denouncing competitor Wix’s business model and their bad taste advertising tactics


There’s been no shortage of articles this week praising Coinbase. They are set to go public via direct listing next week. This is exciting times in the crypto space, a successful public offering could have a huge boost to adoption of crypto currencies and other blockchain technologies. I’m excited about this too, but I wouldn’t be writing a good newsletter if I didn’t describe my Coinbase experience, which hasn’t been very good. I’m still waiting to hear from their support team, it’s been 2 weeks I’ve been trying to setup my account. I’ve sent multiple emails, and at least for me, their support department doesn’t appear to exist. I only get automated email replies.

Last week I wrote about my impressions that people were starting to more fully understand crypto. I noticed the quality of crypto related articles and podcasts had increased significantly. This week I discovered another example of this, a16z’s canonical reference on NFTs - the NFT Cannon.

AR/VR is heating up

Until this week I’ve only been mildly interested in AR/VR, I haven’t seen any examples that really stand out. There are signs though that the space is heating up. An article from last week reported that 1/5 of Facebook employees are working on AR/VR projects. That’s significant.

This week Microsoft announced that it has won government contract to develop AR/VR headsets worth $10 billion over 3 years. That’s also significant because it validates that the AR/VR space has commercial applications and is bound to lead to other industrial uses to be developed. I think we might see some really exciting tools being built in this space over the next few years.

In the consumer side of the space, Apple announced recently that it will be releasing a headset later in the year. It’s interesting to see the different approaches.

Here’s an article that describes the difference between AR / MR / VR / XR that might be useful, and also Brian and Chris’s Ride Home Experience podcast this week is a live Twitter Spaces session all about AR/VR, with an appearance from Robert Scoble. Worth a listen.

Workflow time

Given my background in building workflows for media companies, I’m always on the lookout for trends in this area. There was an article discussing the strangeness of english being so widely used in the EU as the lingua franca, especially after Brexit. This to me looks like a tremendous opportunity. There are some super cool workflows that could be built to address many of the issues raised. I re-posted some old links which I think are good examples of work that has already been done in this space by the BBC available open source. Mozilla also has been building interesting workflows for documentation sites. I also previously wrote a relevant article about modern Github based workflows for content sites.

Somewhat related but in the New Media / Creator Economy space, Tik Tok announced an automatic captions feature. When combined with some translation workflows this has the possibility to open up creators to much bigger international audiences. The captions text could also be used in many other automations, triggering workflows based on the results of processing the captions text. I’m interested to see how creators use the feature.

I have lots of experience building translation workflows, I’m available for hire :)

Mic Droping

Yahoo Answers announced it will be shutting down on 4th May. This article didn’t make that much of a splash but it should cause some concern to people, because when sites go offline without being properly archived, we loose parts of culture.

LG getting out of the smart phone business which is big news because the variety of both software and hardware is reduced. Over the years LG has created some innovative phone designs, notably their dual screen phones.


Several notable security stories this week. Following on from last weeks Cryptojacking story in the newsletter, Github announced this week that it was handling its own cryptojacking incident. It appears that cryptojacking is trending.

There were two rather large user data hacking stories, first with the announcement that user data for 500 million Facebook user accounts had been scrapped from the site, and was being openly sold on hacker sites. Then another very similar announcement that 500 million scrapped LinkedIn user accounts were being again openly sold on hacker sites. These numbers are staggering, potentially 1/8 of the world’s population is affected by just these two incidents.

Features & Funding

A fun blast from the past, Medium is bringing back blogrolls, a popular feature in the early blogosphere, but their new version has been somewhat re-imagined with some automation.

Clubhouse the site that’s become very popular in recent months for hosting audio based forum rooms, is implementing a payments feature. It’s sort of similar to Patreon, but the feature appears to be particularly well focussed on delivering value to creators. It’s a Stripe integration, and they don’t take a cut. They have also raised funding at a very large $4 billion valuation, so I guess more exciting features on the way.


I’ve mostly used to using media queries in CSS, but there’s also a way to trigger Media Queries via javascript which can be useful for example to only load a specific library on certain screen sizes.

I very much like the premise of the Web Browser Engineering online book which aims to teach how a browser works by building a stripped down version in Python. The author hinted in an HN thread that potentially a javascript version might be in the way.


Class static initializer blocks makes it possible to run code once per class, so if you like object oriented code, you’ll probably like this language feature.

The fselect CLI tool makes it possible to access the file properties using SQL, which I can see being very useful because of the precision in selection that enables.

There are many IoT devices in the home these days and Homebridge makes it possible to create your own Smarthome Server with NodeJS which opens up the possibility of easily creating your own smart devices.


Two excellent self-hosting write-ups this week from solo devs.

The first one is focussed on self hosting day to day apps you use to get your work done like calendars, note taking, tasks, git repos, to name a few.

The other article is concentrated on creating a modern self-hosted developer CI/CD and provisioning infrastructure. It’s a very impressive Kubernetes based setup.

As usual all the articles from the linkblog in chronological order are included below, which is also a good way to explore, there are some pieces there amongst the main summary items that didn’t make it into the main themes, but these are interesting in their own right, and often end up developing into something more substantial further down the line.

That’s all from me this week…

I hope you enjoy the links!

Special mentions

Stuff from me

🚀 New recommendation from Ian Hamilton - I worked with Ian while at Signiant where he is Chief Technical Officer #

🚀 New Post: The evolution of my javascript, technology and web development newsletter - I look back at the past 21 editions and tracing the evolution to the present day #

🚀 New Post: Experiments with the newsletter structure and content - A look at the most recent things I’ve been experimenting with in my javascript, technology and web development newsletter #

Stuff from around the web


Class static initializer blocks - For all the OO lovers out there, this feature gives you the ability to have some code in a class definition execute exactly once #

Using media queries with JavaScript- Could be useful for example to only load a specific library on larger devices #

Chris Coyier writes his thoughts about The Deno Company - Looks like people are mostly interested in the native Typescript support, but for me that’s the least interesting part, the security part is much more interesting, but also there seems to be a very strong tooling set, and being able to import via urls is cool #

Coinbase To Go Public on April 14, Announce Q1 Earnings Beforehand - They are opting for a direct listing rather than an IPO, by the sounds of this article there are several other factors that make this transition non-typical, anecdotally I have been waiting for a reply from their support team for over a week now, hasn’t been the best on-boarding experience #

GitHub investigating crypto-mining campaign abusing its server infrastructure - Looks like it’s possible to get a repo to run a new action just by creating a PR, it’s not even necessary to have the PR merged, they don’t mention any way to stop it happening, and it sounds like it’s been happening for many months, surprising that’s it’s only surfacing now, looks like crypto based attacks are on the rise #

533 Million Facebook Users' Phone Numbers and Personal Data Leaked Online - That’s a lot of user data #

Ingenuity helicopter is officially sitting on the surface of Mars - First non-Earth helicopter flight scheduled for 11th April, we will have the data back on Earth on the 12th, I didn’t know that the Perseverance rover had a nuclear power system #

Facebook, Inc / Giphy, Inc merger inquiry, by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) - “The CMA has referred the completed acquisition by Facebook, Inc. of GIPHY, Inc. for an in-depth investigation, on the basis that, on the information currently available to it, it is or may be the case that this merger has resulted or may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within a market or markets in the United Kingdom. Facebook was given the opportunity to offer undertakings to the CMA to address these concerns. Facebook informed the CMA on 25 March 2021 that it would not be offering any such undertakings.” #

@antirez (Author of Redis) - “I look at the web today. Not as a programmer, but as a user of broken sites that are unable to obey the most basic rules of navigation and usability, terribly slow despite the hardware progresses. And I can only think that modern frontend development has failed.” #

LG confirms it’s getting out of the smartphone business - I don’t know that much about mobile development aside from as a user, but I guess the disappearance of a manufacturer is somewhat similar to the disappearance of a browser, but probably worse because you also loose all the hardware possibilities, and I always thought that LG had some interesting phone designs, especially the dual screen devices, a bit experimental, but it seemed though at some stage one of them would lead to something really novel #

NASA Confirmation: Earth is Safe From Asteroid for 100 Years - Well that’s nice to know #

42 - the wildly improbable ideas of Douglas Adams - This looks amazing, a crowd funding campaign for a book that pulls together all the best bits and pieces from Adams’ notes, scrap books, hard drives etc, reading HHGTTG for the first time was a bit like if the philharmonic orchestra was smashed together with everyone of your all time favourite dinners you have ever eaten, I just devoured each book back to back in a reading mega binge, it was still to this day my best ever book reading experience #

Microsoft is supplying 120,000 HoloLens-based headsets to the US Army - The AR/VR space has been making steady progress in recent years but such a big government contract, ~$20 billion over 10 years, is probably an indication that the pace is about to increase, there are many companies making consumer products too, lots of applications such as training, heads up displays, and many sectors especially industrial and manufacturing, I’m interested to see what software tools and workflows will get built in these environments #

What really is the difference between AR / MR / VR / XR ? #

The NFT Canon is a go-to resource for artists and creators, developers, corporations and institutions, communities and other organizations seeking to understand or do more with non-fungible tokens #

Supreme Court rules that Android Java usage is fair use in win for Google over Oracle #

Yahoo Answers will be shut down forever on May 4th - The end of a long and storied internet era (of bad questions and even worse answers) #

Blogrolls - Making Writer Discovery Seamless - Medium is going retro and re-introducing a feature that was popular in the early blogosphere, I think it’s a cool idea, especially since they have re-imagined it somewhat, adding some automation so it’s easier to manage, I don’t really remember whether it was a feature I used very much back in the day, I had a blogroll on my blog but that’s something you generally just setup once and rarely make changes, and I suppose I clicked around a bit on other people’s blogrolls though I don’t remember it being ‘second-nature’, it will be interesting to see how it changes the flow of things #

Software Innovation Prevails in Landmark Supreme Court Ruling in Google v. Oracle - “An important victory for software developers” #

Introducing Clubhouse Payments - The have implemented a very generic Stripe integration so users can pay creators directly, it will be interesting to see how people use the feature #

Web Browser Engineering - Web browsers are ubiquitous, but how do they work? This book explains, building a basic but complete web browser, from networking to JavaScript, in a thousand lines of Python. #

NASA Startup Studio - “The NASA Startup Studio offers entrepreneurs an opportunity to launch the next big NASA spinoff. It is a unique program that pairs entrepreneurs (and those who want to be) with NASA technologies that are prime for commercialization.” #

Coinbase Posts Blowout Q1 Profit of $730-$800 Million, Days Before Public Listing - I still haven’t heard back from their support team, it’s been 10 days now #

Clubhouse Discusses Funding at About $4 Billion Value #

Short discussion thread I had with author from yesterday’s link to the Web Browser Engineering book, centred around the possibility of a version of the book with the browser written in NodeJS, how awesome would that be? Hint: Very awesome :) #

fselect - Find files with SQL-like queries #

Google vs. Oracle: The ruling at the US Supreme Court - Quite a good summary of the case and what it means for software development and the software industry in general #

Make your own Smarthome Server with NodeJS - Now I’m thinking what awesome homemade NodeJS clients could be built :) #

Why does so much news about the European Union still come out of London, even post-Brexit? - It’s a difficult situation for sure, and as the article points out it’s awkward, but from a technical point of view it’s a tremendous opportunity to build some really ground breaking media production workflows, there is already lots happening in this space notably from the BBC, and much of it is written up publically and open source #

🚀 Re-post: How the BBC World Service migrated 31 million weekly readers to an isomorphic react app - Pretty great writeup from the engineering team about their migration from a PHP monolith, it’s cool that they are running server rendered React now, they do a lot of great work when it comes to accessibility since their sites are published in so many different languages and are optimised to run in a huge variety of network connectivity conditions, I’d like to know more about the backend the new system is using, something the article doesn’t cover, did they change backend language? They mention it’s running on cloud infra, but where? And are they using serverless? #

🚀 Re-post: bbc/simorgh - Github repository for the BBC's open source ReactJS single page application - Used across the BBC World Service News websites, with tens of millions of users, these are some of their biggest websites - It's written in javascript and runs in NodeJS! #

🚀 Re-post: GitHub Actions for custom content workflows #

🚀 Re-post: Mozilla MDN Docs are going full Jamstack #

Why there really aren’t 2 million podcast series - The whole way through this article I was wondering about a specific statistic, then right at the end it mentions said statistic, then pulls a “you’ll have to wait for our next article”, needless to say that was a bit annoying, but there’s also some good info in there if you are into podcasts #

Apple to unveil new AR/VR headset later this year - There are a variety of approaches that companies are using in their AR/VR, the Apple approach: “Pass video of the real world through the visor and display it to the user, offering a ‘mixed-reality effect.’” #

TikTok adds automatic captions to videos in accessibility push - Cool new feature, this potentially opens up the possibility of some interesting translation workflows #

Screw it, I’ll host it myself - Great developer writeup of his personal self hosted setup, including network diagrams and a fantastic list of apps that enable him to be fully self hosted and fully backed up #

Make is crap - Imagine a world where all software feedback was this good #

First Public Working Draft of WebCodecs today - “The specification defines interfaces to codecs for encoding and decoding of audio and video. It does not specify or require any particular codec or method of encoding or decoding but provides JavaScript interfaces to implementations of existing codec technology developed elsewhere” #

Wix and Their Dirty Tricks - Matt Mullenweg of Wordpress and Automattic takes aim at Wix for their tasteless ad campaign and shady business model #

The Architecture Behind A One-Person Tech Startup - Great writeup of a Tony Stark level solo developer setup, very impressive, lots of similarity with my NodeJS architecture but since it uses Kubernetes it’s next level, includes diagrams and snippets of the various configs so you get a really good idea how everything is connected, and some good commentary describing architectural decisions, pro & cons, ultimately it’s a mostly self-hosted setup that supports multiple apps, load balancing, caching, logging, deploys, provisioning and a whole lot more #

Hackers are trying to sell stolen data from 500 million LinkedIn users - Another massive user data mess-up to go with the very similar Facebook user data mess-up - Aside from the fact that these are serious breaches, I’m struck by how these numbers are almost too big to even conceptualise, imagine being in 1950 telling someone that your company had 1/2 a billion customers, it just would not compute in that reality #


Ride Home Podcast - (Bonus) Friday 04.02 Twitter Space - Special experimental live talk radio style episode, a bit rough around the edges but generally a very interesting discussion about the AR/VR space, with an unexpected appearance from AR/VR connoisseur Robert Scoble, I like this format quite a bit, it’s a nice complement to the main show, reminds me of some of the earlier days of podcasting when things were more informal and unprepared, it’s also fun to listen in to the show as it evolves #

7-Figure Small Podcast - The Rise of the Personal Enterprise - A look at one of the latest trends for self employed individuals, often something that freelancers move towards as they grow, includes some useful insight based on real world experience #


Thanks for reading!


Mark Smith‘s Newsletter is a weekly roundup of some of the best javascript, tech and web development links published to my daily linkblog.

If you liked this newsletter you might like my blogdaily linkblog or experimental podcast :)

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Have a great weekend and a fantastic next week!