By Kuan

How We Choose Tools That Align With Our Values

December 18, 2021

Welcome to our humble digital home! I’m excited to take you on a backstage tour of Sunny Days Off to look at one of the foundational tools that make this project possible. But first off, a detour with Robert Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.

If I can distill my takeaways from the past two years into one idea, Pirsig said it. Taking a break from working in tech has made me see more clearly how hyper-capitalist rationality perpetually produces products and behaviors that reinforce itself. On a more personal level, merely changing what I do, without changing how I think, will only rebuild problems that masquerade themselves as solutions.

The realization may seem grim, but I’m optimistic. If I can ever so slightly change how I think, then what I do will undoubtedly contribute to a more sustainable, just world. And it starts with the smallest things, like choosing the software to build Sunny Days Off.

When we dreamed of Sunny Days Off, we had two goals in mind. The first is to share our journeys with friends, family, and others we meet on the road. Second, we want to spread the word of the local non-profits that are doing life-affirming work especially in the intersection of ecology, sustainable tourism, and land/ocean stewardship. If we are intentional about choosing our tools, the building of the project itself can be a mirror of our values: honest, ethical and culturally sensitive.

Our needs for the platform are straightward: It needs to house frequent posts that are mostly composed of words and images. It needs to be accessible across the globe, since my parents live in China where website access can be an issue. It needs to be easy to use, and ideally without lots of bells and whistles that we don’t need since we don’t need to serve a large audience, nor are we interested in making money through advertising or subscription.

But what do honest, ethical and culturally sensitive tools look like? For us, it means open source tools or those built by non-profit organizations. We enjoy being able to communicate directly with those who create the tools, follow development backlogs, and support creators whose goal isn’t to maximize profit. Given our lists of needs and wants, we shortlisted the following 4 platforms:

Name Pros Cons Open Source, Ownership of our content from the get-go No comments
Ghost Robust functionality, Built by a non-profit organization Too subscription-focused
Wordpress Open Source, Trusting platform Clunky UI
Bear Minimal functionality, Open Source No photo support

After testing and comparing some of the newer, open source tools, such as and Bear, we found Blot easy to use and customize, inexpensive ($4/month) and is accessible in China.

What Victor, our resident developer, says about Blot: I haven’t really coded anything since 2015 but Blot was really easy to set up and create a theme from scratch with my outdated knowledge. I am happy with the result.”

Supporting new, independent projects requires patience and creative problem-solving skills. Blot is no exception. We’ve filed bugs, and regularly remind ourselves to be content with limited customization options. And the journey to pick the right tools for our project took time for research, trials, and discussions. If our goal was to get Sunny Days Off up and running as fast as possible, we probably would have chosen a popular website builder instead. But these days, we intend to live by the saying: slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”

I think Robert Pirsig would see eye-to-eye with the military on this one.