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Ben Buckman
Web developer, entrepreneur, sailor, traveler
Web developer, entrepreneur, sailor, traveler

Ben's posts

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I just launched a suite of node.js apps at! I built them to learn node and to demo production code to clients, but they're hosted for public use as well. Spanish Flashcards lets you make your own English-Spanish cards and play them until you get them all right. Interactive Lists lets you make to-do or shopping lists and share them, seeing changes to the list in real-time with websockets. Login with your Facebook ID and enjoy!
Blog post about them @
Apps @
Code is on github. Enjoy!

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Fascinating inside story of the development of Google Wave and the dysfunctions that made it fail. Plus this excellent advice:
"As a programmer you must have a series of wins, every single day. It is the Deus Ex Machina of hacker success. It is what makes you eager for the next feature, and the next after that. And a large team is poison to small wins."

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I really enjoyed this bit from Voxer CTO +Matthew Ranney on the +node.js podcast NodeUP (, about the preference for gluing together other people's abstracted code rather than learning and doing it from the bottom up:

"Other people's libraries make tradeoffs that maybe you're not willing to make - maybe they're trying to solve a general-case problem and you don't need half of that stuff. ... If you start with, "I'll just glue a bunch of software together that I don't understand," I don't think you'll be well served. Eventually you'll have problems that are insurmountable when you can tolerate them the least. I think it's way better to start with the super-low-level thing, and feel the pain, and understand how it works, and be frustrated enough that you can know why it's so good that you can use these higher-level things... then not only do you know why it's better, but you really know what it's doing behind the scenes, so you can reason about it, and debug it... The "kids these days" and their libraries - there are high level abstractions for everything, like 'how high can we build it?'"

This is a principle +Drupal forgot years ago that's killing that project, and it's something I'm keeping in mind as I learn Node.js and follow other people's glued-module examples. Thanks for the great podcast.

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Trying to figure out how to mount Express.js apps inside one another, does anyone know how to do that? Posted a Q on StackOverflow:

I've been hacking with +node.js for much of this week. The scope of what the community has built around the Node core is amazing. I'm finding Occam's Razor to be as good a principle there as ever; among all the community modules and examples are a lot of messy mishmashes, and sometimes the best way to debug is to step back and ask why half the code is there in the first place. There's a lot the Drupal community could learn from Node's.

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Tech post, for Drupal or any other heavy site: Making sense of Varnish caching rules

Has finally been shut down? I'm probably the only person who still uses it, but I haven't been able to access it all day. No message, no server response. I thought Yahoo sold it to some new interested party...?

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I'm working at the crossroads of Drupal and Node.js at the moment, so this is a beautiful quote, from the post on the jQuery Plugins site (built in Drupal) shutting down:
"While powerful distribution tools like GitHub and npm have come to the fore, we’ve been stuck in an aging, CMS-oriented paradigm that frustrated developers and consumers of plugins alike."
The alternative to the CMS paradigm is a decentralized ecosystem where solutions bubble up via virtual word of mouth. There isn't old-style "spam" b/c it won't bubble up, but there is a lot of cruft, which takes skill to filter. I've spent much of the last few weeks learning amidst the young, but vast, and decentralized Node.js ecosystem; this is the way the web is going, and it's nice to feel validated by joining the progress.

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The Unintended Effects of Driverless Cars

Google has been working on driverless cars for a few years now. The obvious selling point is that the cars will be much safer without a human behind the wheel.

Currently, a car spends 96% of its time idle. Compare that with planes which spend almost their entire lifetime in operation/airborne. Idle planes aren't making money, and they need to recoup their hefty $120M price tag. There is an unforgiving economic incentive to make sure it is always in use.

The proliferation of driverless cars will have a similar effect. Cars will spend less time idle: why would a household buy 2 (or even 3) cars, when they only need 1? Ride to work, then send the car home to your spouse. Need to go grocery shopping, but your kid also needs a ride to a soccer game? No problem, a driverless car can handle that.

What will begin as households cutting back to a single car, will expand. Why would a family need an entire car to themselves? That's crazy! It may start as extended family in the same area sharing cars, then neighbors sharing cars, and then entire apartment/condo complexes in cities offering driverless cars bundled into their HOA/rent.[2]

The operating percent of a car will go from 4% to that 96%. But back to my leading statement: there are unintended consequences. Parked cars will be a relic from the past. What happens to car insurance prices if a driver is no longer part of the equation? And if cars are receiving 20 times more actual use, that would imply that there would be 20 times less cars sold.[1] This is the kind of disruptive change that can reshape the automotive industry. The recent GM/Chrysler bailout may have been for naught.[3]

[1] Of course, this isn't exactly the case, as the cars would need to be replaced more often due to nonstop usage, but the point stands.
[2] Hell, I'd share a car with my condo complex. I currently don't own a car, I walk or take taxis basically everywhere.
[3] Of course, car companies realize this. And I can guarantee you, they will lobby against driverless cars.
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