Brief and no doubt boring update on internal tooling:
As of a few days ago, I’m planning to take Vinci (logs), Arc (notes), Storybook (fiction writing), and possibly Slash (blog) and smush them all together into a new, streamlined Django app called Writ. (Fundamentally, they’re all tools for writing, and there’s enough overlap among them that keeping them split out isn’t worth it to me.) Still in the initial design/planning stage. Looking forward to simplifying things a bit.
I’m no longer intent on using plain text as the data store for my apps. The main reasons I wanted to do this in the first place: a) archival durability and b) rampant minimalism. For the first, I’ll instead have all my apps export everything to plain text whenever there’s a change. It won’t be canonical, but it will be a redundant copy of the data so it’s even more archivally durable. As for the minimalism, well, sometimes one can go too far.
Lastly, I’m looking into hosting my site statically via Linode Object Storage (ala S3). Still exploring ramifications — redirects, etc. Main goal with this is to make my site more resilient, and even if the object storage part doesn’t work out, I’ll still move the site over to a new static engine (which I’m naming Cast, and I plan to write it in Go).
I’ve decided to ditch Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps — Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, mainly. I never thought I’d say that, but they’re too expensive. Instead, I’ll be using Affinity Photo, Affinity Publisher, and Affinity Designer. It’s a fairly small one-time cost instead of a dreary, never-ending, money-sucking subscription.
(If/when I need to do motion graphics or video editing in place of After Effects and Premiere, by the way, I’m planning to use the free version of DaVinci Resolve.)
So far I’ve only actually used Affinity Photo, to texture the piece I released yesterday. Worked like a charm. The live split-screen preview when applying a filter is brilliant, and the file sizes are much smaller, too. (In Photoshop I’d regularly end up with a 1–2 GB PSB file. With Affinity Photo, it’s closer to 300 MB.)
As far as typesetting goes, I still expect to use TeX (Tectonic) on projects where it makes sense — it’s what I used on the wide margin study editions since typesetting each language individually would have taken much more time — but it’s nice to have Affinity Publisher for other projects. I’m planning to use it for the book of narrative poems I’m (slowly) working on. (I’ll be setting it with Hinte, a new typeface I’m designing in FontForge. More on that soon.)
With Figma doing most of what I used to use Illustrator for, I don’t expect to use Affinity Designer all that much initially. But the raster brush textures are intriguing. We’ll see.
Hundred Rabbits on their tools ecosystem — several of their philosophies here appeal a lot to me, and I love how constraints (electricity, etc. in their case) lead to interesting ways to solve problems
Some quick thoughts about the project space I see myself working in (meaning personal coding projects that aren’t the productivity tools I mentioned before), both now and for the foreseeable future. To be honest, it’s mostly a roadmap for myself, posted here as part of working in public.
One of the areas in the project space is bookmaking tools: tools that help with making either print books or ebooks. What I’ve worked on in that area (and some of these are still in progress or in the future):
Storybook — writing tool (covered under the productivity tools, yes, but I feel it fits in here)
The next area, somewhat related, is creativity tools: tools for making art, music, etc. I do realize that there’s a bit of overlap between the two areas — art can be used in books, for example. This is not a rigorous taxonomy.
While I haven’t done much in this area so far, the intersection of software and art has been calling to me more lately. I expect creativity tools to become much more of a focus for me, probably even more so than the bookmaking tools.
Last but not least, HCI. My master’s thesis is in this area, and much of my other work also touches on it in limited ways. (What I mean by that, I think, is that with projects like Trill, Curves, and Press, the parts that have most interested me are the interfaces. Also, those interfaces have been textual in these particular cases, but I’m also interested in other kinds of UIs.) So I plan to start building more proofs of concept and interface experiments — like the spatial interface ideas I mentioned several weeks ago.
The productivity tools series has now come to its end, thankfully. (Thankfully because I’m more interested in talking about current and future work.) I ended up featuring only twelve; there are a couple others I’ve stopped using, but if that ever changes, I’ll write about them.
Arc is my private notes app. It’s a Python app running FastAPI. The name is short for Archive, as in an archive of notes. It’s my latest app, too — I wrote it around a month ago, as a replacement for Apple Notes (to try to get back to more of a Notational Velocity or Simplenote kind of thing). And just to be clear, this is distinct from the digital garden notes idea I talked about earlier.
Notes are just text files, stored in a directory with UUIDs for filenames. By default it opens to a blank note screen, but that’s boring, so instead you get to see what it looks like when editing a note (with the bar at the top indicating the text isn’t saved — I originally implemented autosave but soon realized that I prefer manual):
The search page lists the twenty most recently modified notes (dummy data):
The search results page uses Ag under the hood (since all the notes are just in a flat directory for now, it was super easy and took maybe ten minutes to implement):
How I use Arc
On my laptop, I have it open in Firefox as a pinned tab. On my phone, I have it saved to my dock as a PWA.
I’ve been using Arc daily, to keep track of things that I want to be able to refer to easily later on; normal notes usage, nothing too exciting here.
Arc is still pretty new, so we’ll see where continued usage takes us. I’m happy with the plain text storage and with FastAPI, though. (Thus the plans to move over to those for the other tools.) It too is a small app, with around 500 lines of code. Maybe at some point I’ll switch from Ag to ripgrep, but that’s about the only change I can think of right now.
Lector is a reading app for macOS. It’s an Electron app for now. The name comes from the Latin (for someone who reads), with a homophonic hat tip to Hannibal. It came about from wanting a minimalist app that would let me read PDFs and scanned books in dark mode and keep track of my spot across multiple books.
A Lector book is just a directory full of images. (PDFs have to be split up into image files first, so I have a small script to do that.) When the app starts up, it looks at the book list directory to see what books are available. It also has a JSON file to track where I’m at on each book (which page and which part of the page), what size the window is, which book I last had open, etc.
The app itself looks like this, on an empty desktop to show how I usually use it:
No title bar, since I find that distracting. And the page images are scaled by default to fit the window width.
Hitting g / brings up a brief panel showing the books that are in the system, with alphabetized keys to get to them (so g a to go to the first, g b for the second, etc.). When I’m done reading a book, I delete its directory, so these mappings change fairly regularly.
j and f and double-clicking all go to the next page; k and d both go back to the previous page. J and K move up and down the page (in larger jumps), and the mouse can also be used to scroll. (I find that I mostly use the mouse for scrolling and f/d for page navigation, but every once in a while I’ll use the other keys.)
As you can see in the screenshot, it defaults to dark mode, with slightly lowered contrast for easier reading. i inverts the colors and s toggles the higher contrast view.
How I use Lector
I use it when I want to read a book I’ve scanned (usually with Scanbook). I haven’t used it as often lately, but I fully expect that to change soon. (It’s been very handy for reading textbooks.)
I’ve found that I prefer the window size shown in the screenshot, wide (so that the text is large enough) with just enough vertical room for a paragraph or so (since reading in smaller chunks is easier).
I’d like to move off Electron at some point, probably to a native Swift app. Having it support PDFs directly (or splitting them up itself) would be nice, and having a way within the app to remove books would also be good.
Finally, I’d love to add EPUB support at some point. (I haven’t yet found a desktop EPUB reader I like. Marvin’s great on iOS, though.)