September came and went. We're entering the rainy season in Seattle, but so far there've been a few nice weekends to break up the gray. We had a few weeks of really bad air quality last month because of the wildfires, but that seems to have subsided. It's uh… really saying something about the current year that one of the bright spots is clean air. But, hey, I won't be taking air quality for granted anymore.

Recently: Reading

  • Abaddon's Gate: Abaddon's Gate is the third novel in James S. A. Corey's1 The Expanse series. It's a solid continuation of the first two books. I'd hoped that the series would reach a natural stopping point after 3 books, and while the book doesn't end on a cliffhanger, it strongly leads into the next book in the series. I've been enjoying The Expanse sofar, but I'm not a huge fan of long series (currently, the series is scheduled to have 9 novels, with additional short novellas).
  • Watchmen: I recently got my hands on a copy of the first 12 Watchmen issues. I've heard that the recent Watchmen HBO series is excellent, but that you needed to have read the graphic novel(s) first before watching the series. I don't read many graphic novels / comics, so it's been an interesting read. I kinda feel guilty reading through it, because there's clearly been so much artistry put into the illustrations, and yet the pacing of the writing has you reading through it rather quickly. It's definitely a rich medium. As far as the text, I feel like I'm missing some context; the plot is set in the Nixon era, and seems to assume a familiarity with comic book tropes – both of which leave me at a disadvantage in understanding. It's been an enjoyable read nevertheless.

Recently: Games

I've gotten back into a habit of playing video games on weekends. In the past ~5 years, I've (somewhat irrationally) resented the idea of “lazy Saturday mornings”, but with so many fewer activities available in COVID times, games have become a welcome source of novelty.

  • A Short Hike: I picked up this game as part of the Itch.IO Social Justice Pack over the summer. It was highly recommended by some coworkers, so I gave it a shot. It's a wonderful indie game that I played through in a single sitting (maybe 2-3 hours). Great art style, charming story, and a really pleasant soundtrack. It nails the feeling of exploration too.
  • Factorio: I finally “finished” my Factorio 1.0 playthrough. It was thoroughly enjoyable. Since I last played a full game, there have been a lot of improvements to the “late game” that kept me playing long after I would have previously lost interest. Factorio definitely earned it's 1.0 version number – it feels like a strong, complete game now.
  • Satisfactory: I've also started playing Satisfactory, but I'm only just past the tutorial, so I don't have much to say about it yet. In contrast to Factorio, my first impression of Satisfactory is that it still has some of the noticeable imperfections of an Early Access game.

iOS 14

It's been a few weeks since I've been running iOS on my various iDevices, and I'm impressed with the changes. 👍 I've already written a little about iOS 14 – though my previous post was focussed on the Shortcuts improvements in iOS.

The biggest improvement that I've noticed is the addition of Widgets and the “App Library” (which allows you to hide icons from the home screen). Android has had something similar for a long time, but I'm glad that Apple has followed suit. I've made the first big change to my home screen layout in years: I've incorporated the Shortcuts folders I wrote about in my previous post, as well as a “featured image” Widget, which shows me nice photos I've taken over the years. Especially in COVID times, that little infusion of nostalgia + novelty is delightful.

I also like that the default Apple keyboard now supports Emoji search (finally! 🙄🥳). I still prefer the emoji search in Google's Gboard better, since the search results UI shows more emojis, but… it's a step forward.

Finally, switching AirPods connections between multiple iOS devices has improved significantly. I can be listening to a podcast on my phone, and if I quickly pull out my iPad and start a YouTube video, the audio output seamlessly transitions to my iPad. It works ~98% of the time, which is not perfect, but good enough to be a noticeable improvement over previous iOS versions.

Dark Mode

I'm a big fan of dark-mode UIs, and since dark mode came to the Mac in Catalina, I've been wanting to add a dark mode for this blog. CSS isn't my strong suit, so I put it off for a while because the task of making a big change to my blog's style was daunting.

Dark Mode Theme

Dark Mode Theme

However, in recent redesigns I made an effort to lean in to using SCSS variables for colors. This made making a dark mode a lot easier; most of the guides I read online (this one by CSS Tricks was pretty good) suggest using CSS variables to toggle the dark mode. In the end, I used an approach like below:

// variables.scss
@mixin light-mode {
    --body-color: black;
    //...
}

@mixin dark-mode {
    --body-color: white;
    //...
}

:root {
    @include light-mode();
    @media (prefers-color-scheme: dark) {
        @include dark-mode();
    }
    .dark-mode {
        @include dark-mode();
    }
}

// main.scss
body {
    color: var(--body-color);
}

In other words, I have a variables.scss file that defines a bunch of CSS variables for colors (background colors, font colors, hover colors, etc.), and then throughout my SCSS I can make reference to those variables. Then, there's a media query in the variables class that swaps out the values for the CSS variables when dark mode is enabled. I also have a .dark-mode class I can enable on the top-level <body> HTML tag, so that I can add a dark mode toggle button in the future.

It was a smaller project than anticipated, and it looks better than I'd hoped. CSS remains something that I'm not incredibly comfortable with – but I think it's more the design aspects that I have less experience with. I feel reasonable confident in my ability to mechanically change styling… Design thinking is a whole other skillset.

  • As of mid-September, I've now been working from home (vis-à-vis the pandemic) longer than I worked in an office. 😬
  • “AVIF has landed” - Well worth the read. I'd never heard of the AVIF image format before, but it seems to do a great job of compressing images without losing much perceptible detail.
  • miniflux-to-sqlite - I wrote a small script to export Miniflux (my RSS reader of choice) data to sqlite, to be consumed/visualized by Datasette. Miniflux uses PostgreSQL under the hood, so the script is a pretty simple translation layer.
  • National Inventory of Dams Data - In other Datasette-related news, I published a dataset I found on data.gov to test out Datasette's publishing capabilities. The deployed version is live at https://nid-datasette.vercel.app/. I wrote a few thoughts about it in this thread, but the TL;DR is deploying (small) datasets with Datasette is remarkably streamlined.

  1. I learned recently that James S. A. Corey is not an actual person; rather, it's the pen name of two authors. ↩︎