Obsidian - an external rhizomatic brain

Earlier this week I started using Obsidian, an offline tool similar to Roam that links and networks ideas.

Obsidian on a glossary of design terms page

I have used a variety of tools in the past for note-taking. I’ve used Standard Notes, Left, and plain notebooks to keep a record of knowledge and things that I need to remember. Without recording information in some form, I find that I am constantly forgetting things that I’ve learnt and that recall is very difficult.

Obsidian in graph mode, showing connections like a spider web

Enter Obsidian. Like Roam, it utilises the Zettelkasten method of note-taking. Notes and thoughts are structured laterally and making connections between things is actively encouraged. The way this operates is much like how HTML documents function, only there is also an added visual graph that allows for more of a rhizomatic navigation of ideas.

Obsidian files all stored locally as Markdown documents

I am currently using this tool to record and gather information on web development and design terminology. There are already links starting to open up between the two, and potential links that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of unless I’d seen the two ideas side-by-side. This is quite possibly the most creative form of information management that I’ve ever come across, one that I intend on using for my own projects.

Sincerely,
T.

The snail goes back to making

Mars the Rabbit looking into the camera

Life has been busy.

I am always looking for new and different ways of improving my life, both the quality of it and how to better myself in terms of character and skill for the future. I’ve been so dead-set in getting myself stronger so that I can have a better job, have more money, own more things and so on. One of my greatest fears is to become complacent and set in my ways.

However, the danger of being so strung up about constant improvement and renewal is forgetting what you already have. In my case, this has been the skills that I have already picked up and worked hard on while at university. I have neglected my creative practice for the longest time, in part because of how things ended up when I finished (will cover this in more detail some other time) and a general disillusionment with academia at large. After I had graduated I didn’t want anthing to do with that world anymore, and as a result took to doing different things and just trying to enjoy my life as I left all the heavy shit behind.

Despite all this, only recently have I realised that I really miss making things. Some of my favourite memories are of making different things just for fun and experimentation, not for a presentation or audience but just the process was all that mattered for me. Whether that was performing for the camera or out to the silent void that is the Internet, these are some of my most special moments.

After what I would consider to have been an extended hiatus, I have gone back to making things again. I don’t really have a plan with any of it yet, but I have thought about revisiting things that I have already worked with to try and mine them for new meaning. My little Thinkpad isn’t really built for image editing and video, but that’s precisely what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks. It’s a gentle process of trying out different things but not pushing the machine too hard to risk overheating/kernel failure!

I’ve abandoned using the Adobe Creative Suite for my work. I now consider it malware insofar as it traps users into contracts and requiring the payment of cancellation fees, uses a shit ton of local resources just to install and remove their apps, and requires a constant Internet connection to phone home to Adobe servers (if it cannot do this every 7 days you are locked out of the CC Suite). While their software has now become the industry standard, I don’t think an individual like me really needs something as convoluted as this. Now, I hop between a mixture of Kdenlive, Krita, Dotgrid and Inkscape (all free and open source software!)

At the moment I’ve been trying to make a video using my notes and scraps from the past month during lockdown. Not sure where it’s headed but it’s getting me excited in any case.

From my screen to yours,
T.

Status report

Many big developments as of late.

Sophie and I have moved into our new place. This is the first time I’ve ever felt that there’s been a space that has been truly ours and a result of what we’ve worked for.

Interior view of our place

The sense of responsibility over ones space is awesome. We have been able to furnish and organise all of our contents exactly how we want, with no worry of what others will think because it doesn’t matter! I feel as though a great sense of potential lies before us in this house, and of what the future holds in general.

Being back at work has proved to be mostly fine. I still wish I was spending more time at home working on my own projects but I shouldn’t complain - I am thankful to have work and it’s been good to see my co-workers again. Not much progress on my programming practice either but am hoping to work on this over the next few weeks.

T.

Back at it

I went back to work this week, and it has been absolutely hectic so far.

Before Level 2 went into effect I guessed that people would react one of two ways:

One, that they would be afraid to venture out and continue to stay at home where possible, or

Two, that everyone would go back out en masse and rush to the mall, park, KFC and so on.

It seems the latter has turned out to be result of this shift. I wonder how long it will be until the lockdown will feel like a distant memory. At the same time, I can’t help but feel we have so much more to learn from this and are still incredibly unprepared.

T.

Moving into Level 2 - my thoughts

At 4pm this afternoon the prime minister of Aotearoa announced that the country was going to be moving into Level 2. For the past month I’ve been staying indoors like many others, and have really enjoyed the stillness.

I am a bit scared about how the next few weeks will be. With everything that has happened my perception of being out in the public and dealing with strangers has completely changed. It’s made me realise just how much I enjoy and appreciate being in my own space, and that this doesn’t mean you have to be completely disconnected either.

T.

New stack

Over the past few days I’ve completely rewritten my website and have switched to a new static site generator (Eleventy).

My previous site was a fork of Hunor Karamán’s website, built with Choo and Enoki. I really liked the flat-file structure of the site, but began feeling like things were too abstracted and limited. For example, posts on the site didn’t always play well with screen readers which created an accessibility issue. The site also didn’t scale well to desktop screens, with a massive amount of unused whitespace squishing all content to the lefthand side.

Screenshot of my old site, with massive whitespace on the righthand side
My old website - look at all that unused space!

I decided to shop around for different static site generators as potential replacements. There was Jekyll, Hugo, Middleman, Pelican, Zola, Hakyll et al., all of which I have had some prior exposure to. Of all of these, Eleventy seemed like the most “logical” choice - the codebase is easy to read and understand, plus building and serving pages only takes a few seconds. I then paired this with Sam Baldwin and Piper Haywood’s fantastic Portfolio Starter theme, customised to suit my liking (more navigation links, tree-style project pages, and so on). The end result is a site that is cleaner, easier to navigate and scale across different devices.

Otherwise all other infrastructure related to the site remains unchanged. The site is hosted using Vercel (formerly known as ZEIT), with a security certificate issued by Let’s Encrypt and completely serverless. All pages and posts are in Markdown which is rendered into plain HTML, so I can work on the site either on my computer using micro or on my phone using Working Copy.

This process has been a great learning exercise for me. I have been working on the FreeCodeCamp web development course over the past few weeks, so it has been a great opportunity to test my newfound knowledge of HTML, CSS and JS. An area that I am working on further is developing ARIA tags on the site to gain further accessibility for users.

T.

On Accessibility

As it turns out, accessibility on the web means much more than simply adding alt text to things

Today I completed the “Applied Accessibility” section on FreeCodeCamp. I had very little prior understanding of accessibility despite having an entire section on this website dedicated to it. While I personally think it is fairly legible and easy to navigate, there are many aspects of this site that are too abstracted for users of screen readers.

I had no idea that semantic HTML was a thing! Now upon having studied this it makes complete sense - looking through the source code of a webpage and seeing div tags everywhere makes difficult to read even from a development standpoint. It is logical for accessibility to extend to things like labels for forms, buttons, and even using CSS to display graphical information to screen-readers as a table.

This course has now made me seriously reconsider how I approach web development. I don’t want to exclude users from navigating and using my site, especially if it’s because I’ve cut corners in how I am writing my HTML + CSS. The WCAG is very comprehensive in this regard, and I think it is best for me to make this approach of making with accessibility in mind as standard practice from now on.

T.

Them tunes

The lockdown has meant that I’ve been able to dig deeper into the discography of a few artists lately.

One artist in particular that I’ve been listening to a lot is JPEGMAFIA. I’ve been a big listener of his for the past few years and his last album All My Heroes Are Cornballs was my AOTY in 2019. His level of production is truly off the wall, like a scratched Playstation One disc that’s been uploaded via Tor and spat out the other side. His use of a Ridge Racer 4 sample in BALD! is one such example, and results in songs that are like nothing else ever done before in my opinion.

JPEGMAFIA - BALD!

I don’t think his comparison to Death Grips is fair. While I understand that his earlier work had production that sounds somewhat like a Death Grips record (the song Baby I’m Bleeding is a good example), JPEGMAFIA’s lyrics are highly political, full of clever wordplay and excellent delivery. You get the impression that this is a person who truly cares about his craft, but doesn’t give a fuck at the same time. He is genuinely doing it for the music and is making it how he wants - just looking at some of his song titles is a testament to this.

Personally I find his music and artistry incredibly refreshing and inspiring. I think this kind of mindset translates into all arenas of life, and it gives me a renewed sense of motivation towards my own ongoing projects.

T.

And we are off!

I had no idea the true power and depth of CSS until today - the possibilities seem endless!

text: While my prior understanding of CSS had been centred on navigating stylesheets and things related to HTML formatting, I had no idea about how it can actively draw, manipulate and animate elements on a webpage.

When I think of things that move or do anything fancy on a webpage I immediately think of Javascript or jQuery. However, given just how powerful CSS is it’s made me realise that a lot of that is not actually necessary. In fact, there are probably a few web projects that I have made in the past which don’t need the JS that I’ve included. It’ll be one less thing to worry about, and will likely run a lot faster too!

I am still getting my head around how to “draw” things using CSS. Pseudo classes are a great concept, but I have only just managed to grasp the basic use of them. I also still haven’t quite figured out how content strings in CSS work - what do they actually do and why do I need them?

It’s clear that the relationship between HTML and CSS is truly intertwined and layered. With a creative mindset and hardwork one could make some really cool shit with just these two things alone.

I’m now partway through the Response Web Design course on FreeCodeCamp (what I am using to structure my studies). It’ll be all about applied accessibility in web design tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to it! I have a very small understanding of the WCAG and ARIA tags for HTML but definitely need to brush up here.

See you all tomorrow and stay safe,

T.

Progression

My last blog post talked about how I wish to learn how to crawl before attempting to run with regards to front end development. I have gained a very rough knowledge of HTML, CSS and JS over the years through tinkering, but have never learnt the fundamental concepts and terms associated with these technologies. No structure or formal training whatsoever.

There are two things I plan on doing to rectify this. The first is going through the full stack development course on FreeCodeCamp, one that has been recommended and mentioned by many on the web including designer Eduoard Urcades. The second is going through the basics on MDN, using this to create my own cookbook or glossary of concepts and terms that are fundamental to web development.

I realise that much of this is going to be fairly standard rote learning and memorising. Because of this, I intend on treating the learn like a school course with set hours throughout the day. And just like a school, I will be using a physical book to build my glossary as I am progressing through the FCC course.

With lockdown here in New Zealand extended until at least mid-May, it’s all the more reason for me to spend my time productively. Tomorrow I will set everything up and work for two hours (typical of a university lecture).

T.