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Commonplace WordPress theme

I’ve been gradually updating the WordPress theme that powers this site with the help of a very talented designer and thinker, my friend Bec Worth.

It began with conversations about overhauling her own site. She had a few disparate Tumblrs with a ton (and I really do mean a ton) of great references, photos, and more that had accumulated over the years. All of them had fallen in to disuse for one reason or another, but she still felt like some sort of outlet for collecting these sorts of snippets and longer-format writing would be really useful. She brought up the Commonplace book as a particular inspiration. I’d never come across it before but it really resonated.

We continued talking about her site, and I started to restructure my old color-heavy Notebook theme (view in Wayback Machine) to strip out the less necessary functionality, improve the accessibility, etc. I wanted to make it something that could be more widely useful to not just me and Bec, but others as well. The early version of this new theme used variable Work Sans (view in Wayback Machine)

She liked where it was going, so we got her set up on a WordPress instance and used the Tumblr importer to pull in all of that old content. Since then, we’ve been using her log and my site to test out ideas and continue pushing the idea of what a Commonplace Book could be on the web. For more along these lines, I recommend reading her post “What would a Commonplace Book feel like on the web?

What’s next

It’s far from finished. The type is nowhere near as tight as Bec’s designs, I need to spend a bit more time on that! Amongst other things, I need to clean up the table of posts, add a thumbnail view, and improve the gallery block styles. We’re also going to figure out a way of highlighting work and other projects, something that draws a bit more attention than normal posts.

And color! We’d like to make it possible for people to select preferred text colors, maybe on a post-by-post basis or per category. Color is tricky though, I’d like to preserve some baseline of legibility and I’m not sure how much I could do as the developer to enforce that. Also, how do we handle this if we introduce dark mode support? The HSL or LCH color spaces might be helpful.

I’m not planning to submit this to the WordPress theme directory. Right now, this means that installation and updates are pretty manual, the theme has to be uploaded via FTP before it can be installed. Because of that, I’ll eventually set up an update server so that anyone using the theme can perform one-click updates from the WordPress admin area. Note to self: see this article for more on how to do this.

Realistically, people using the theme might want to change up certain aspects of the theme to be more “them”. Instead of adding a ton of theme options like font pickers and that sort of thing, I’d like to encourage people to tinker with it themselves. This is going to require a bit of documentation to point people in the right direction. I’ll probably start with how someone with little-to-no CSS experience could go about changing the font (i.e. upload font files in the Media library then add the necessary CSS lines in the Customizer, or setting up a child theme).

Clearly, it’s a work in progress!

But anyone is welcome to give it a try for themselves. I recommend it if you’ve been looking for a place to keep important references or get thoughts out of your head. Head to the commonplace-wp-theme GitHub repository to download it and read a bit more.

If you do end up using it, we’d love to know.

Published

NOW v2

Updated my Now page. Here’s the contents, for posterity.

After a tumultuous few months, we’ve landed in San Francisco 🌉. It is both wonderful and strange to have ended up in the exact place that I left when I moved to the UK 🇬🇧 10 years ago. I’m more than a little melancholic—about the friends and family we’ve left, about the complicated state of the city, and more—but I’m also excited to reconnect with old faces and meet new people. As the virus 🦠 allows!

Work-wise 👩🏻‍💻 I’m currently: working with Bec Worth on the WIP 🚧 open-source WordPress theme that powers this website; developing a new website for Open School East designed by Sam Baldwin; chatting with folks about tech and other stuff in weekly digital coffee sessions 🤖☕️; and consulting with a few orgs in the US and UK.

I’m still settling in to SF, but I’m very open to new projects and particularly teaching / talking opportunities. Get in touch if you’d like to learn or work together.

Limited free time is currently taken up by: navigating what it means to be an adult in the US; working harder on how I confront obvious and not-so-obvious racism in myself and others; Animal Crossing 🐻; walking and foraging 🍄; catching up with friends on FaceTime or Whereby; cooking and baking; and remotely contributing to the choral collective Musarc 🎵.

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NOW

Added a NOW page to this site. 👍

Here’s the first version, for posterity when it gets changed in the future.

We moved out of London in March. Originally we planned to live with family in West Yorkshire for two weeks before moving to the US 🇺🇸, but that’s been quite delayed by the virus 🦠. Now we’re living in temporary accommodation until moving to the US is more feasible. This move will mark the end of a 10 year period that I’ve lived in the UK 🇬🇧. I’m looking forward to a new adventure, and I’ll get to show Sam a few of the places I spent earlier years. But I’ll miss a lot, particularly the friends and family I love.

Work-wise 👩🏻‍💻 I’m currently: adding some new functionality to the Modern Art website; wrapping up a bunch of coding-for-designers workshops for the LCC MA GMD students; developing the WIP 🚧 open-source WordPress theme that powers this website; chatting with folks about tech and other stuff in free weekly digital coffee sessions 🤖☕️; and consulting with a few orgs in the US and UK.

Limited free time is currently taken up by: sorting through belongings to prep for the move; Animal Crossing 🐻; walking and foraging 🍄; catching up with friends on FaceTime or Whereby; cooking and baking with a limited subset of kitchen tools (challenging!); and remotely contributing to the choral collective Musarc 🎵.

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Instagram be GONE

My old Instagram account has been languishing unused for about two years, finally got round to moving the images and videos over here. Now I’ll be keeping all that content on this site in a photolog. If they open up their API a bit someday then I’ll syndicate from here to there, but I’m not holding my breath.

Note to self: use Handbrake to convert .mov videos to .mp4. The standard “Fast 1080p30” preset (see docs) is fine for now.

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A web color space that respects *real* lightness

Lea Verou just published a blog post about the LCH color space. This is super exciting, see her post for detail. Specifically, the improvement has to do with the perceptual uniformity and lightness being visually consistent no matter the hue.

The best way to get a feel for this is to experiment with her LCH color picker. Drag the hue value back and forth, and you’ll see that the tonality of the background remains consistent. It doesn’t suddenly feel a lot lighter in yellow than it does in blue. Do the same thing in an HSL color picker and you’ll feel the difference.

This would help a lot with the color on my site. I’ve never been 100% happy with how the color is handled because it is too hard to control the lightness and thus the legibility. See the List page for a clear example of this, posts in June and February are particularly hard to read. LCH would solve this!

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Switching from Google Analytics to Matomo (f.k.a. Piwik) on WordPress

It’s a new decade, time to leave Google Analytics.

A big part of me wants to say screw it, just get rid of analytics altogether. But I find it interesting. I’ve never used it to decide what to write, and I don’t think I ever will, but it’s just fascinating to find out what makes the rounds. I’ll never know why a short post about repairing my mom’s straw bag was my most popular post for years, but I’m glad to know a lot of people checked it out.

So I decided to keep my Google Analytics property in place and just locked it down as much as I could. I adjusted the script to respect users’ Do Not Track browser settings (Paul Fawkesley has a short article about how to do this). I also configured Google Analytics to anonymise IP addresses, and I deliberately disabled Data Collection for Advertising Features, Demographics and Interest Reports, User-ID, and all data-sharing settings. I also set a low data retention policy to make sure old data would get deleted.

None of this changed the fact that I was still sharing data with Google.

Read more

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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!