hardscrabble 🍫

By Max Jacobson

Psst. Check out my RubyConf 2017 talk, There are no rules in Ruby.

blog posts

I've started initializing git repositories in the weirdest places

26 Nov 2018

Earlier tonight I caught myself doing this:

cd ~/Downloads
git init
git commit --allow-empty --message ':sunrise:'

Then adding this to a README.md file:

This is my downloads folder

Then adding this to a .gitignore file:


And then running:

git add -A
git commit -m 'Add a repository for my downloads folder'

And while it felt extraordinarily natural, I laughed imagining a stranger observing this little ritual and wondering what the hell I was doing.

So what the hell was I doing?

I’ll start with the particulars of what it was and then dig into the why.


  1. I initialized a new git repository in my downloads folder
  2. I added a sunrise commit
  3. I added a README file explaining the purpose of the repository
  4. I added a gitignore file which tells git to ignore everything, except for itself and the README
  5. I committed those two files


I don’t plan to have any code in this repository. I don’t plan to push this repository anywhere. I might not ever change that README to say anything else, or commit any other files. What’s the point?

I’m going to say some things which are willfully naive and I want you to come with me on this little journey: what does it mean for a folder to be the downloads folder? I suppose it means that one downloads files there. I suppose most browsers will put files there when you use the browser to download them. I suppose other applications, like Slack, might do the same. I suppose as the owner of the downloads folder, it’s my responsibility to tend the folder, perhaps to periodically delete the files there? Or maybe I don’t care and I’ll just let them pile up?

You know this and I know this, but we weren’t born with this knowledge. We scraped together this knowledge through years of trial and error. We’re unlikely to forget these things. We know how to use computers, especially our own ones.

But our computers have so many directories on them and it can be challenging to organize them all in a way that makes sense. And it can be hard to remember the decisions we made about how to organize them when we made those decisions a few years in the past.

For a few years, I’ve been making little repositories like this one all over my computers. The READMEs will include little notes to self about:

  • what is the purpose of this folder?
  • how do I use it?
  • where should I put things?
  • what’s the thinking behind those decisions?

The git log helps me remember how long I’ve been following whatever system I’m currently following (or neglecting to follow), which I’m not very proud to admit is something I find interesting.

I’ve been doing this specifically for most of the top-level directories in my Dropbox (things like src and writing and Documents) and frankly I enjoy very much stumbling on things like this:

cd ~/Dropbox\ \(Personal\)/Documents
git show

And seeing:

commit eeb9f6b2e24179a7995b4e6b52995270e8cec759
Author: Max Jacobson <max@hardscrabble.net>
Date:   Sun Aug 28 23:38:13 2016 -0400

    init with readme

diff --git a/README.md b/README.md
new file mode 100644
index 0000000..edb6eed
--- /dev/null
+++ b/README.md
@@ -0,0 +1,7 @@
+# Documents
+I copied this stuff over from my ~/Documents on my macbook pro
+wtf is all this shit?
+I'd like to find a proper home for it in my dropbox...

And, uh: I haven’t!

Feel free to be like me.

Commit your skeletons right away

26 Nov 2018

I was just writing a post about habits around starting new git repositories and there was one additional thought that isn’t quite related but which I also want to say and so now I’m really blogging tonight and coming back to you with a second post.

Please commit your skeletons right away.

Imagine you’re making a new rails app, and you use the rails command to generate a skeleton for your new application:

rails new the_facebook
cd the_facebook
$ git status
On branch master

No commits yet

Untracked files:
  (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)


nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

This command will generate a whole bunch of files. It will also initialize a new git repository. But it doesn’t commit those new files for you.

I urge you: please commit them right away (after your sunrise commit).

Why? Because these files were all generated for you by a computer, and the computer deserves credit. Kind of. Really, it’s because you’re about to make a bunch of changes to those files and you’re also about to forget which of those lines you wrote and which of those lines the computer wrote. You’re going to be maintaining this code base for the rest of your life. I mean, maybe. It’s really helpful to look at git blame and figure out who wrote which lines and why and in my opinion it can actually be helpful to have that context all the way down to the very beginning.

The same is true of cargo new for rust people and jekyll new for blogger people. The ember new command is a welcome exception: it commits its skeleton and throws in some cute ASCII art for free.

If you already didn’t do this with your repository, rest assured that it doesn’t really matter, it’s just kind of nice.