Published

So dark

Photo of the orange smoke in San Francisco

Taken at 9:40am today. Somehow it seemed to get darker between when I woke up around 7:30 and now. It’s dark enough to be 7/8pm. Apparently ash is falling like snow in Concord.

Soundtrack for this morning: Silver Apples’ eponymous album from 1968. Came across this via @erikinternet’s tweet, didn’t know about Simeon Coxe III before. RIP.

Worth reading: 2019 Guardian article ‘Fire is medicine’: the tribes burning California forests to save them.

Edit at 9am on 10 September

The sun never really came up yesterday. We woke up this morning wondering if it would be the same.

The orange is gone, replaced by light beige smog. The 10 minute average air quality index (AQI) is over 200 in most of the city according to PurpleAir, over 270 in parts of the Sunset district. “Everyone may begin to experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”

Though it looks better than yesterday, the reality is way worse on the ground.

Edit at 4pm on 10 September

Now the air is thick, opaque. AQI is in the 300s in most of the city, mid-300s in the Mission. “Health warnings of emergency conditions if they are exposed for 24 hours. The entire population is more likely to be affected.”

Edit at 9:30pm on 10 September

The AQI has dropped back to the mid-200s in SF. Things are a bit better (still not great) once you get south of Santa Barbara, hovering around 100. In the mid 100s around Tahoe. Oregon is feeling it the worst right now, it’s over 500 in Portland. As Duane King said on Twitter, “‘Airpocalypse’ helps explain why my eyes are burning indoors.

Read more edits

Published

aaronzlewis.com

Another personal site well worth checking out:

aaronzlewis.com

There’s a lot of great stuff going on here: a cocoon for fledgling writing that’s maybe not quite ready for prime time yet but well worth sharing, web-like behavior in that the site pulls in content from various sources (Twitter, Arena, his blog, etc.). It really gives you a well-rounded picture of his personality.

The use of color and transitions is great too, usually when I see a site with this much movement and color it can come across as wacky / zany. That’s fine and appropriate for some personalities, but it’s not the sort of thing that I would go for on my own site. So it’s cool to see someone accomplish a friendly, colorful, and playful design without it feeling too over the top.

I like the tone of his writing too, particularly the “mentors, collaborators, & co-conspirators” bit on his Credits page. I’ve wanted to add something like this for a while but haven’t been sure how to present it.

It’s interesting, coming across sites like this makes me go back and forth about where I’m going currently with my own. On the one hand I’m really enjoying making a site that others can use, it’s been great to see how people use it. On the other hand, I can only go so far with making the theme really “me”. There may be other ways to address this though… worth considering!

Published

Now online: Open-weather

Screenshot of the Open-weather website showing a storm over Japan

open-weather.community

The Open-weather website is online. A bit about Open-weather:

Open-weather is a project by Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann probing the noisy relationships between bodies, atmospheres and weather systems through experiments in amateur radio, open data and feminist tactics of sensing and séance.

The site is pretty straightforward, a static hub for a bunch of resources hosted in various places including their PublicLab wiki and archive of amateur radio-generated weather data. The homepage is currently a large scrollable nowcast produced in collaboration by people across the globe. We decided to embed the Google Sheet archive directly in the site for now, though that may change in the future. We may do the same for pages such as methodology, to come later on. We’ll see!

The site is hosted on Netlify and the code is in a GitLab repo. Pls excuse sub-par commit messages and the very minimal README.

Sasha and Sophie are giving a talk at 14:30 UTC-4 Toronto as part of Our Networks distributed festival. Definitely worth grabbing a ticket, it’s super well priced considering how much Our Networks is putting on and absolutely worth supporting that org.

Published

Removing whitespace from around an SVG in Inkscape

For future reference, this is how to remove whitespace from around an SVG in Inkscape according to the version I’m running right now (1.0beta2):

Open up the SVG in Inkscape, then select all elements in the SVG (cmd+A). Click File in the top toolbar menu, then Document Properties. The dialogue box should open to the Page settings. Under “Orientation”, click the drop-down arrow “Resize page to content”, then click the button “Resize page to drawing or selection”.


I used to use Adobe Creative Cloud for loads of stuff but got rid of it a few months ago. It’s just so crazy expensive, and I never need it for client work anymore. Almost all of the designers I work with hand over Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD prototypes nowadays, and I’m happy using Affinity for personal stuff (Photo for image editing, Publisher for a never-ending cookbook project, etc.).

BUT. I do sometimes have to manipulate SVG icon exports that have excess white space. Previously I used Adobe Illustrator to sort that out, now I use Inkscape. I use it so rarely though that I have no muscle memory, I always forget how to crop to the edges of an SVG to get rid of that whitespace. Now I won’t forget, fingers crossed.

Published

On personal sites, and adios analytics

I’ve been getting approached more and more by people that want to put a link to their company’s content on specific pages of my site. I’d be up for it if the linked content was super relevant and unique, the sort of thing I’d bookmark, but it never is. The link usually leads to a generic article filled with ads, pop-up newsletter requests, trackers, etc on some faceless blog. Often the actual link they send me has a URL parameter to track whether or not I’ve clicked it (where is the self-awareness?!). I get that their employer is probably making them do it, but it feels pretty icky.

Alongside that uptick in ick, I’ve felt my relationship with my site shifting over the past few months. I loved cultivating my own little slice of the internet for so long, and some of that joy is slipping away. Some of this is probably related to the pandemic, some of it is busyness and stress, and some of it is for sure related to our SF move.

I came across this tweet from @lil_morgy, she’s definitely identified part of the problem. I’ve spent more time on Twitter in the past few months due to both moving and the pandemic. While it has introduced me to some great people, it has also started warping my idea of what success can look like. Does it mean having at least 2k followers and firing off hot takes? Sure as hell feels like it when I open up Twitter. I don’t have hot takes, my brain isn’t wired that way and they leave me with a bad taste. I like the ones that simmer, a messy family-sized stew as opposed to a perfectly formed amuse-bouche of a thought. Where does that leave me?

On a separate topic, a few days ago I came across Jim Nielsen’s post Comparing Data in Netlify and Google Analytics. (To be honest, I came across it via @davatron5000, probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. So there are good sides to it…) It reminded me of the often-futile role of analytics on so many sites. So many of my clients have added analytics because they thought they had to have it, or they’ve been forced to have it by some public funding body. But more often than not they have no time or inclination to make use of the data they collect and even if they did, how accurate is it actually in the end? The analytics platforms usually get so much more out of that data than they do.

Anyways, this is a roundabout way of saying that I just pulled the plug on my self-hosted Matomo analytics instance. Feels good. Consider it a first step towards repairing my relationship with this site that I have cared for over many years.

Note: I still feel like Matomo is one of the better options out there if you must have client-side analytics (more on this), but it was just pointless for me. I rarely looked at it, and I think even the presence of it was pulling this site father away from what it is at its core.

At its core, this is a personal site. A personal site, to me, is a website whose primary editor and intended audience is one and the same, a single, solitary, individual. My personal site is a repository for my memories, experiences, feelings, recipes, tips, photos, and more. A lot of it stays private. The things that might be interesting or useful to others are made public. Regardless, it is an ever-growing extension of myself that I have total control over, my mirror and memory aid. I want to be able to look back at this when I’m eighty and thank my past self for surfacing things that I otherwise would have forgotten, the good and the bad.

But a personal site can be anything, and that’s the beauty of it. This is my site, long may it change.


An additional thought.

What is yours?

I love coming across personal sites, and I love helping people set them up. If you give it a stab and run in to trouble, or just have no idea where to start, reach out to me and I’ll try to give you some pointers or at least bore you to death with some worthwhile questions.

Published

Good Mediterranean recipe combo

I’m trying to do a tiny bit more meal prep on the weekend so that I don’t default to something beige or unhealthy. Last weekend I came across a great recipe combo, things that are pretty easy to manage all at once on a Sunday afternoon.

* The baba ganoush recipe is fabulous, but I’d recommend either cutting back on the garlic or mincing the garlic directly in to the lemon juice and letting those chill together for at least 10 minutes so that the garlic flavor mellows out a little.

Some tahini is trash, and that makes a huge difference in the resulting hummus or baba ganoush. Good tahini should taste nutty and silky, ideally not overly bitter, and never sour or pungent. It’s not a great sign if it is separated, that probably means that it’s been sitting out for a while. Tahini goes rancid pretty quickly, so the fresher the better and keep it in the fridge.

The best tahini I’ve ever had was Al Nakhil brand (Lebanese, comes in a beige jar with green writing and a green lid) from The People’s Supermarket in London. I don’t think I’ll find that in SF so have been trying whatever I can find. The Whole Foods 365 jar I got recently was ok so I’ll rely on that in a pinch. The jar of Tarazi I had before that was great, but very pricey from the grocery nearest to me. I’ll probably try to do a big shop at Samirami’s on Mission and 26th since I hear they’ve got great tahini and it looks like they do a lot of bulk spices and dry ingredients.

The above dishes combined with diced cucumber, diced ripe tomato, and a little bit of hot sauce is just lovely, great for multiple meals during the week. With falafel it’s even better. We used Ziyad box falafel mix and it was pretty great, but I’d love to try one of the Serious Eats falafel recipes some time. They’ve got a good food lab post on falafel. The Hilda’s Kitchen falafel recipe also looks really good.

If I didn’t have a wildly out of hand mint plant, I’d probably make the Serious Eats Israeli-style tahini sauce.

Edit 2 September 2020: Added notes about baba ganoush recipe and tahini.

Published

Slideshow butterfly

I’m so tired of anxiety dreams.

I only remember the end of the one last night.

I was walking down to a cove and spotted a little brown butterfly with a faint checkerboard pattern. It started basking, opening and closing in the sun, revealing that its wings were semi-translucent. They were slidesheets, each square held an image of an acquaintance that I wish I had gotten to know better. People I forgot I knew.

My field of vision zoomed in to each one Powers of Ten-style. When I was fully “in” the image it turned in to something like a home movie. I couldn’t influence anything going on and they didn’t know I was there. Usually the people in the image were older than when I had met them. (How could I possibly know what they actually look like now?) Identical twin boys I knew as a kid in southern California, a friend of a friend from Glasgow.

It was incredibly sad.

Green hairstreak butterfly on the moors in West Yorkshire

A Green Hairstreak butterfly on the moors in West Yorkshire in spring 2020. I need to get a better camera.

Published

Decentering Whiteness in Design History, an annotated bibliography in progress

Check out Decentering Whiteness in Design History, an annotated bibliography in progress.

One of the great FemOS ladies shared the above resource recently. She came across it via the Simply Secure Slack chat. It seems like a strong doc, I hope that the researchers and others continue to add to it.

If you’re looking for resources on a particular topic like typography or graphic design, it’s best to refer to their hashtag list currently on page 8 (search the doc for “Hashtag Authority List” if it moves). Then find a tag you’re interested in and search the doc for that tag.

Below is a list of a few resources that caught my eye and I’d like to follow up on. These are all freely available online in one form or another or could likely be loaned from a library.

  • “The Font that Never Was: Linotype and the “Phonetic Chinese Alphabet” of 1921”, an article by Thomas S. Mullaney. The article is behind a paywall, but he also presented it at ATypI 2016 (see video).
  • Saki Mafundikwa’s TED talk Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets
  • Chromophobia by David Batchelor published in 2001. The editorial description: “The central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse—a fear of corruption or contamination through colour—lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge colour, either by making it the property of some ‘foreign body’—the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological—or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.” Purchase from the publisher, buy it secondhand, or look for it at local library.
  • “New Blackface: Neuland and Lithos as Stereotypography”, an essay by Rob Giampietro that was originally published in the journal of the Type Directors Club (an org that has been been in hot water over the past few months, incidentally…). It’s available to read on his website.
  • Design in California and Mexico 1915–1985, the catalogue for the exhibition “Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915–1985” at LACMA in 2018. Purchase from the LACMA online store, buy it secondhand. Feel like this is unlikely to be in a local library unfortunately.
  • “Violence and Economic Growth: Evidence from African American Patents, 1870–1940” by Lisa Cook, published in the Journal of Economic Growth in June 2014. Cook analyzed over two million patents, cross-referencing with Census records to track Black patent activity over time. From the bibliography: “Her data suggested something huge happened after 1921 that caused the rate of Black patenting to tank after that date; it turned out to be the destruction of “Black Wall Street” during the Tulsa massacre.” Available in full as a PDF via Cook’s website.

Time to reintroduce a whole lot of color on this site, I think!