The CD-ROM tree

Remember those free trial CD-ROMs you’d get in the mail or with a magazine? It started with AOL Online and then tons of other software providers caught on. Instead of tossing them away, my mom collected them. Around Christmas time, she’d drill holes in the top and hang them outside on the bare tree near the mailbox. I’m sure I gave her a hard time about it as a teen, but they made me smile when I got back home from school each day.

At the end of the holidays, she’d get rid of the discs that were too banged up and would keep the ornaments that still had their rainbow surface for the next season. The tree got fuller every year until the mid-2000s when they stopped arriving. Eventually the lacquer and aluminum flaked away from the remaining discs, and then the CD-ROM tree was no more.

The Internet Archive has an AOL CD-ROM collection online for anyone that wants to browse this slice of tech history.

Chocolate crackle cookies recipe

The ingredients in this recipe are very similar to Prof. Bruce Maxwell’s Churchill Brownies recipe, so similar that I may consider trying the exact combo below as a brownie tray bake some time. Dust the top with powdered sugar and cut it in to squares. Could work!

There are a few factors at play in getting the crackle right including the fully preheated oven, the position of the oven rack, the liquid-to-dry ratio, the *sifted* powdered sugar, and the temperature of the dough before it goes in the oven. You could attempt to bake two sheets of cookies at once, but baking the cookies in separate batches helps them crackle more uniformly. Follow the instructions carefully, and use weights if you can. Weigh your eggs if you’re not sure about the chicken egg sizes in your country.


Makes about 18 cookies, on two baking sheets.

In a large bowl, combine 60 g (½ c) unsweetened cocoa powder, 205 g (1 c) granulated sugar, and 60 g (¼ c) vegetable oil until very homogenous and absolutely no lumps of cocoa are left. Beat in 2 large (~60 g each w/ shell on) eggs and ½ t vanilla extract or the zest of an orange.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 130 g (1 c) plain flour, 1 t baking powder, and ¼ t salt. Next, stir this dry mixture in to the wet mixture just until combined. Cover and place in your freezer for 45 minutes if you want them quickly or 4–8 hours in the fridge if baking the next day.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven to 175C (350F) and position an oven rack in the upper third of your oven. I use the second rung from the top. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and then sift about 35 g (¼ c) powdered sugar in to a bowl.

When the oven is fully preheated, remove half of the dough from the fridge / freezer and use a spoon to scoop out about 1–2 T for each cookie, quickly rolling them in to balls. The dough will be very sticky. When all of the dough balls are ready, quickly roll them in the powdered sugar and place them on the lined baking sheet, leaving decent space for the cookies to spread. Place them straight in the preheated oven and bake for 10–12 minutes until crackly and just a tiny bit soft. Let cool no longer than 5 minutes, then transfer them off of the paper and on to a cooling rack.

Repeat the process with the second half of the dough, using a separate cool tray or allowing the original tray to cool sufficiently.

“Political rewilding” vs. libertarianism, and attempting to escape the barrel with Mastodon

In a recent Guardian opinion piece, George Monbiot calls for “political rewilding” to fight against demagoguery.

At the moment, the political model for almost all parties is to drive change from the top down. […] I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process: radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.

Makes a ton of sense at first glance. But isn’t “political rewilding” just the best of libertarianism repackaged, the freedom of choice and voluntary association? I can understand why he didn’t use that word. The worst of libertarianism — civil liberties at all costs, at the expense of others, the earth, and more — has usurped the rest of it ideologically. “Libertarian” is to the left as “socialist” is to the right.

Related, but separate: in his article, Monbiot draws attention to Finland’s impressive (and seemingly successful) efforts to teach their populace how to spot fake news. In the CNN article he links to, the former secretary-general of the European Schools Kari Kivinen cautions that “it is a balancing act trying to make sure scepticism doesn’t give way to cynicism”.

That line hit home. Reading the news, parsing Twitter, fielding well-intended but misguided email forwards from loved ones. I’ve been living in the barrel for a while now, and it’s exhausting.

On the upside, I’ve joined Mastodon on the vis.social server. My handle is @piper@vis.social, and I’ve downloaded Toot! for iPhone since I like their stance against servers that spread hatred. I’m excited to give a smaller community a whirl, hopefully it will expose me to a more human and humane part of the social web.

Date-based colour

Read “Dynamic, Date-Based Color with JavaScript, HSL, and CSS Variables” by Rob Weychert

This is such a useful article. His implementation on Tinnitus Tracker is definitely more involved than what I’ve done on this site, particularly what he’s done to account for inherent saturation levels and lightness vs luminance. And his colour wheel mapping is slightly offset from mine. I feel like August is the reddest month! I’ve wanted to reconsider the colour here for a while, particularly since the accessibility of some of the hues isn’t up-to-snuff. Rob’s write-up might make that adjustment a bit more straightforward which is a big relief.

I remember being really interested in where Grant Custer went with colour on his blog when I started screwing around with colour on this site. See his blog in 2013 on the Internet Archive. I wanted to see whether or not there was some way to ambiguously reflect where I was in the world, particularly since I live so far away from most of my family.

The first version of the colour experimentation on this site mapped the HSL values to the season, temperature, and time of day where I was at the time the site was visited. This is an example from Paris in late 2016. The hue value was mapped to the date/season (same as now), and the lightness was mapped to the time of day using Moment.js and Moment Timezone. The goal was to map the saturation to the weather where I was using the OpenWeatherMap API with stormy and cloudy days being less saturated, but that never came to be since the weather descriptions weren’t consistent enough. I ended up mapping the saturation to the temperature instead, but I don’t think it was quite as effective.

When I turned the site in to a blog first and foremost, I dropped the location and weather aspect. It could be fun to return to it since it might bring a bit more variation, particularly on the list page. Might be a little wild though, and it might be a massive headache to introduce location and weather on old posts… At bare minimum, I could probably incorporate the time of day as lightness. We’ll see!

“I don’t think we know how to separate when we’re feeling pity and when we’re feeling inspiration.”

A short surfing with coffee. It’s getting quiet as clients and collaborators head off for the holidays, so I played inbox catch-up this morning

Issue 227 of Rachel Andrew’s CSS Layout News is full of excellent reading and listening related to accessible and inclusive design. The link I dug most in to was “Future Accessibility Guidelines—for People Who Can’t Wait to Read Them” by Alan Dalton. His article led me to Liz Jackson’s Interaction 2019 keynote “Empathy reifies disability stigmas”. Part way through, she recommends the book Pathological Altruism. Looks like a big read (and it’s not cheap!) but it seems very worthwhile.

From about 8min 28sec in to her talk:

Step two of the design thinking process is defining the problem — but because disabled people are rarely able to lead, it often becomes us that are defined as the problem rather than the problem being defined as the problem. It becomes about what we can or can’t do, rather than how something does or doesn’t work for us.

So you have our insights gleaned, we’re defined as the problem, and then designers enter this iterative process of ideation, prototyping, and testing which leads to the unacknowledged stick stepper design thinking or as I call it, design thanking.

Because we’re expected to be grateful for that which has been done for us.

Her talk is roughly 20 minutes long and well worth a watch.

Thanks to Sam for the CSS Layout News recommendation.

“It’s a magical kind of sadness, saying goodbye. A bit like preparing to travel again, but no longer together.”

Read Joe Hammond’s final article in the Guardian

Author Joe Hammond passed away recently at age 50 from motor neurone disease. He covers so much loss in his final article, particularly the loss of the future with his two young boys and wife.

Other losses are simpler and more incremental. Sometimes they are nothing more than adaptation and sometimes, like the loss of my voice, they are devastating. I lost my swallow very quickly. There was a three-week period when Gill made sure I had lots of really nice soups, and that was it. Food was a thing of the past. I’ve never got over that loss.

My grandpa on my dad’s side lost the ability to swallow years before he passed. When it started getting bad he could still have ice cream every once in a while, his favorite thing, and then no more. I find it almost impossible to imagine how hard that must have been, particularly for someone as social as him. He probably managed to stick around as long as he did because of my grandma. She was his college sweetheart, his always.

Sharing a big, sensitive file with someone nearly 5,000 miles away

I needed to get a large, sensitive PDF from my mom who is roughly 5,000 miles away. I didn’t really want it sitting in either of our mailboxes or on a mail server somewhere, and it was probably too big for email. I decided to work with her to set up Beaker so that she could do a peer-to-peer transfer with me over Dat.

Read more

Kołaczki recipe

This is my mom’s kołaczki [kɔˈwat͡ʂki] recipe, from her mom. I would guess that my grandma found it in the Chicago Tribune at some point. It was my absolute favourite as a kid, and my mom’s. The cookies are super light and the perfect size.


Makes about a dozen cookies if rolled to ¼” (6 mm) thick, closer to two dozen if rolled ⅛” (4 mm) thick

Let ½ c (110 g) butter and a smidge less than 3 oz (⅔ c, 80 g) cream cheese* sit at room temperature until semi-soft, then beat them together in a large bowl. Add a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter. Blend in 1 c (130 g) flour until just combined. Lay out some parchment paper, drop the dough in the middle, and then press it in to a rough rectangle. Wrap it up and refrigerate it for at least an hour. If you can, stick your rolling pin in the fridge as well.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay some parchment paper out on a surface and then generously dust it with powdered sugar to prevent the dough from sticking. Remove your dough and rolling pin from the fridge. Working quickly to prevent the dough from getting too warm and sticky, roll out the dough to ⅛–¼” (4–6 mm) thick. Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the dough if it seems to stick to the pin.

Once it is rolled out, cut out the dough with a 2″ (50 mm) diameter circle cookie cutter or cut in to 2″ (50 mm) squares and place the shapes on to the lined baking sheet. The cookies can be spaced relatively close, they rise a bit and spread only very slightly. Dab a small amount of apricot preserve on the centre of each cookie. If using the square cookie technique, fold two opposite corners in so that they slightly overlap over the preserve.

Bake at 350F (175C) for 10–12 minutes until very lightly browned. While warm, sift powdered sugar over the cookies and then let them cool on a rack.


* I have lactose issues so I tried making this with vegan cream cheese. It worked really well! The vegan cream cheese was a little less sweet than I would want for this recipe, so I replaced a tablespoon (10 g) of flour with powdered sugar. It also seems to be a bit softer than regular cream cheese, so next time I would probably add 1–3 more tablespoons of flour.

If you double or triple this recipe, separate the dough in to thirds before you refrigerate it. You can then roll it out in stages to prevent the dough from getting too warm.

Apparently you could put all sorts of fillings in this. Apricot preserve is what we always had when I was little, but this time I ended up using the gooseberry and blackcurrant jams we had on hand. More traditional fillings are poppy seed (masa makowa) and plum butter (powidla sliwkowe). The website In Ania’s Kitchen has some good recipes for these fillings.

Low-stakes escapism

Everything feels so high-stakes. Doesn’t help that the general election is a little over 24 hours away. 😐

Escapism helps lower the bar a bit, knocks you off the daily life tightrope, but sometimes even books and movies can feel like too much. If I’m already wound tight, then I’m not sure that filling 100% of my free time with James Bridle or Adam Curtis is going to do wonders for my mental health. I know, I *promise* I’ll get round to them eventually!

These are some options for low-stakes, low-cost escapism that have worked, or could work, for me:

I’ll try to add to this over time.

Important note: Consider turning off all pop-up notifications on your devices and removing the count badge from your email if you have a Mac or an iPhone. You don’t need any of that gunk, I promise.