Libraries and Code Libraries

I find the term library, when used in reference to computer programs, to be kind of funny, because it’s nothing like a physical library of books. Maybe it should be.

A library, especially a public library, is a physical place, with aisle upon aisle of reference materials (primarily books, but also journals, newspapers, maps, movies, and more). They’re generally thought of as places of study, of questions and answers, of jumping off points. A place to learn.

In addition to the books, there are also the librarians, critical guides to point you on your way.

Libraries are learning machines.

Now consider a code library. These consist of lists of types and functions your code can call. If you’re lucky, the code comes with documentation and a readme.

The documentation, depending on its quality, can be a form of reference, and can answer the specific question “what is this and how does it work?” But rarely can you really wander the aisles of a code library (it’s also worth noting a code library rarely consists of more than a few authors, far short of the thousands you’d find in a book library). You can only learn as much as the documentation explicitly tells you, and there isn’t a direct way of learning more from the library itself.

(I wonder: should maintainers be thought of as librarians?)

(or: maybe you can only borrow code from libraries, but you have to return it after a few weeks?)

Speed of Light

Now Now, July 2022

Hey remember these?

Last month, Kottke announced he was taking a sabbatical, which seemed like a great idea (and is increasingly seeming like a great idea for all of us, too, oof). I had a fleeting impulse at the time to pick up the mantle myself, and blog here more regularly, as I love his blog and knew I’d miss it — maybe I could fill in the gap in some small way. Well, I didn’t do it, or at least haven’t done it yet.

I still go back and forth in my mind, wondering: do we need more of the internet or less of it? Does the world need more of my voice, or less of it? When it comes to the internet I am increasingly erring on the side of shutting the fuck up, especially when it comes to “the discourse.”

But then sometimes I think the internet, the web, is a cure for what ails me. And I have heard that some of you wonderful readers enjoy what I post about here (thank you!)

Small talk

The last few months have had pretty lovely weather in Brooklyn. Lots of warm but not sweltering days, lots of sunshine and late sunsets, afternoons brimming with light. In my back yard I’ve had singing robins, a pair or two of cardinals, a smattering of mourning doves (although they seemed to sun on my fire escape more frequently and numerously in the winter), and lots of house sparrows. The trees seem lusher this year, the flowers more vibrant and aromatic. This has probably been happening the whole time I’ve lived here, but I’ve scarcely paid attention to any of it. Look for the details, friends, and you’ll see them, you’ll smell them.

Why am I talking about the weather? Why does anyone talk about it? This so called small talk? I think we do it because it’s the last vestige of a time when we paid attention and felt connected to the land, to the environment. Maybe I can’t relate much to someone I don’t know very well, but we breathe the same air, we feel the same wind. It reminds us of the literal common ground we walk.

(also crazy to me the computer system known as smalltalk doesn’t have built-in weather features!)


(a reminder that the “19” is referring to 2019, when the virus emerged, and here we are in 2022, ow.)

Well ok as fun as it is to pretend that the pandemic is over, it’s very much not????? I have had three doses of the vaccine and I’m so grateful for it. I’m so glad the vaccine has worked as well as it has, and I feel like my risk of serious illness is much lower because of them.

Then there’s “Long Covid” which by all accounts seems to afflict 20-33% of people who get Covid. 1/5th or 1/3rd, that’s incredibly high! What worries me is Long Covid seems to be a form of disability, maybe long term or permanent, and the world does not treat disabled people very well at all (it should! but it doesn’t). That’s what worries me about catching Covid, it’s not that I think it’s going to kill me, but that it’s going to leave me disabled in some way.

I just turned 34, and I feel like only in the past couple of years have I really gotten the hang of my body, only recently have I felt like I’m in tune with it! and I’m not ready to have some of that taken away from me if I can avoid that.

But Covid makes me feel like a crazy person sometimes for not wanting to do a lot of indoor things in public places. I don’t mind going somewhere indoors in public, but I’m gonna remain masked. But I definitely feel like “the weird one” doing so. I am, however, so grateful for all my friends and loved ones who understand where I’m coming from, who make me feel not crazy about it, who hear me out, because it makes a big difference in my life. What a weird time to be alive.

What’s the way out of this? I think I’d like to write a longer post about this, but I think it’s going to be a long haul. Ultimately, Covid is a public health crisis, and I think we’ll need some major shifts to fix that. I think we have most of the tools we need already, it’s just a matter of using them.


I’ve been making a new app in my spare time lately that I’m not quite ready to show off yet, but hope to do so some time this summer. It’s mostly a playground for some programming environment stuff, not really sure what’s going to come of it, but it’s getting interesting. Most importantly, it’s been fun to noodle on in my spare time.


My routine since the wintertime has been to wake up around 6:30, put on some tea and some music, and draw for an hour or so before the world wakes up. Getting up with the birds and the sun, ahhh what a way to start a day. My drawing skills are mostly those of someone who stopped drawing at age 15, but I’m feeling happier with my drawings with every passing day. I’d like to take a class or two to improve my skills, but Covid is keeping me back for now.

I cannot recommend this sort of thing highly enough, even if you don’t like what you draw. It puts me in such a good mood pretty much without fail, regardless of what the drawing looks like. The verb, drawing is more important than the noun drawing.

Programming with Bodies

There’s nothing like a change in work setup to make you notice your body. Normally I work with an iMac on a desk, but this week the iMac died, so I’ve been using a laptop instead, on the desk and the couch, and really anywhere that has a place for my butt. Smaller screen size aside, what’s sticking out to me like a sore thumb is my body’s role in my work.

We tend to think of programming as this kind of disembodied activity — you look at the screen with your eyes and you type and mouse with your fingers, and the rest of your body doesn’t move much while this is happening. Lots of sitting, usually, or sometimes standing, but in either case you’re not moving around much. But even within this limited realm, I’m still noticing a difference. On the laptop I’m much more hunched over, my neck is strained, my wrists are twisted, my legs contorted in a futile hope of propping the laptop up to me just a little closer. (Despite Apple for years calling them “notebooks” instead of laptops, these things often reside on the tops of laps)

This will probably sound obvious, but it’s worth noting that the body is attached to the mind — indeed they’re the same thing. So straining my body over a laptop is straining my mind too. When my back hunches and my neck aches, I feel emotionally hunched and achy too (you know when someone says they’re “feeling low?” well, that’s related to your actual physical posture, that’s where that metaphor comes from). This will also probably sound obvious, but it’s hard to concentrate when your body is hurting! hard to do deep, thoughtful work when it hurts to move.

I know we like to think of programming as “knowledge work” but I think that distracts us from the fact that people are doing this sort of work with their bodies (at all different levels of ableness, I might add). Deep down I think we all know this, but I feel like almost all discussion of programming ignores the body in favour of some abstract astral plane of knowledge.

So what does this mean? I don’t entirely know. Take care of your body, of course. Beyond that? I guess I’d encourage people making programming environments to at least consider the human body. Same goes for people making computers and operating systems. My inclination is to say an iMac is better for my body than is a laptop; might there be a computer that’s better than an iMac? What does it look like? How does it work? I think Dynamicland is a step in the right direction, but what else?

Local Based Software (where “Local” means your neighbourhood)

Some scattered / caffeinated thoughts buzzing through my head this afternoon.

Usually when someone says “local-first software” they mean software that stores data on your device by default and optionally syncs it to the cloud. But I’m thinking about the original meaning of local, as in your whereabouts, specifically your neighbourhood. Thinking about software that only people in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn or [Your Neighbourhood Here] -based software. What would that look like?

Perhaps it’s rooted in your local library, seems as good a place as any in your community (community! there’s another word that takes on weird meaning in the software world. “library” too, but that’s a whole other thing). This is the central, physical place the software lives in (but maybe you can take it with you too, or borrow it?), probably is primarily made there. And only people who live in your neighbourhood get access to it, it’s not something people from around the web can use. You’d get access to it by getting a physical copy of it from the library, maybe? just like a library card. (Aside, I believe one of the visions for the Dynamicland project is / was that it was also rooted in public libraries, so, similar energy here)

But what is this software? Usually when I think of neighbourhood-based software it’s yucky things like “Next Door” where nosy people rag on each other and like to call the cops. Um, fuck that specifically. And also, these sorts of software are made as a “platform” where there’s one vendor who serves localities all over the world (or nation), in a uniform way. Every neighbourhood is effectively the same on the platform. It’s homogenous. But maybe it would be better if each place had its own, homegrown software. You have to live here to get it, and it takes on the character, the grain, the terroir of its neighbourhood. (and maybe every location makes their own custom emoji sets? typography? sticker packs? design language?)

(I also think it would be neat if this wasn’t a phone app or a web app, but maybe some other kind of form factor. Maybe it’s more like a physical, flexible book, or maybe it’s a big papery thing like a map that again is kind of like a 2018 Dynamicland object — I don’t know, but while I’m fantasizing, why not move out of the realm of small phone apps too?)

And what does it do? What do you use it for? Here is where I lack imagination. See, I grew up with the internet, and growing up I felt like it was so cool because it was the same all over the world — location didn’t matter, so what’s the point in caring about local things (sigh). And increasingly it feels like this is the world(view) we live with today — I don’t really know my neighbours! Would software fix this? Nope, but the act of a community-collaborative project might bring people together — the act of making it together might be more important than whatever it actually does. Of course, that suggests it doesn’t even have to be software, but hey, I’m a software person and it’s fun to imagine things. So maybe I’ll dwell on it more (and I’m curious to hear your thoughts too)

Some inklings:

I’m kind of obsessed with Animal Crossing for the Switch, in particular the concept that Tom Nook gives you a little island phone. The device acts as the game’s UI / menu system and it’s a compelling conceit. But I like thinking about it literally, a world where this one character (and his two doofus nephews) made a whole damn smartphone and a handful of apps that everyone on your island (of like, 15 inhabitants) uses. It’s extremely local and it was presumably custom made. I absolutely love this concept.

The Community Memory computer / space thing that was in Berkeley in the 1970s. It was a computer rooted in a physical space, and you had to visit it to use it. Looking through it with today’s glasses, it looks kind of like a forum / message board, but I’m probably missing lots of the nuance of what made it so special. You can read more about it in Jenny Odell’s fabulous “How to do Nothing” book. Also this tweet thread and this one too.

Last summer, when coming back from my beloved local sandwich shop, I tweeted:

Obsessed with my local software bodega

I can get all the objects, lists and collections, updated views, everything I need. Great people who work there too! I’m thinking about buying one of their tote bags or hats

Anyway, support your local software bodega!

It’s a bit silly, sure, but it’s like an alternate world where local electronics shops that sold boxed software still existed today (instead of things coming from digital “App Stores”), and beyond that, not only could you buy pre-packaged software, you could also buy software “parts” for the software you’re making yourself (akin to a hardware or art supply shop).

I love my local sandwich shop, it’s got its own vibe, the food is great, and people in my neighbourhood generally love it. Same with the delis, the bookshop, the cafés etc. These are all small businesses, not aiming to reach millions of customers, just trying to make their way and provide services and goods for the people who live here.

Similarly, Tyler tweeted:

was having some fun with cyclic cellular automata the other day, looks a lot like terrain maps. this is all using my neighborhood graphics library

And I quote tweeted it, deliberately misinterpreting it:

I like the idea of “neighbourhood graphics library” meaning the library your physical neighbourhood all uses. Like there’s a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn library, an Upper West Side library, etc. and they’re all different

Does it really make sense for a physical neighbourhood to reinvent a whole graphics library? Probably not really, but it’s fun to imagine, it’s fun to think about software that manifests the attitudes of the people living closely together, that speaks with their accent.

Tell me what you think!

1000 Books, Year 7

(Part of my “Jason is trying to read 1000 books” series. Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6)

This year was a banger for books! 38! That’s one more than last year (and just three shy of my high water mark). At the same time, I feel like I’ve been reading ever more ambitiously, thicker tomes, and haven’t done as many graphic novels lately.

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

    Scary and superbly written, I loved the world she built. Didn’t realize until the end of the year Atwood’s a terf though :\

  • Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

    Everyone should read this book.

  • Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

    This book was a pretty wild ride! I’m excited and also scared to read the rest of the trilogy.

  • Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami

  • Pinball 1973 by Haruki Murakami

  • Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien

    2020 ended up being my year of Tolkien! I kind of can’t wait until enough time has passed that I can read these books freshly anew.

  • I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

  • Paper Towns by John Green

  • The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams

  • The Overstory by Richard Powers

    Ohh this book changed me. A love story to trees and people too. Please read it.

  • The Shining by Stephen King

    It might not have been my best choice to read this in the depths of winter, while living in a Covid-isolated world, but… I loved it. Dark but sympathetic. Hate to be this guy, but the book is better than the movie.

  • The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

  • Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

  • Seeing with Fresh Eyes by Edward Tufte

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

  • MacArthur Park by Andrew Durbin

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

    (again, oops)

  • The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason

  • A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

    This mammoth book fascinated me, and acted as a gateway drug to my new KSR addiction, which you’ll see more of for probably the next year or so.

  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

    I tried, at least.

  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

    Everyone should read this book!! It was definitely one of my favourites of the year, mind expanding. Read it on vacation, as you do.

  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

  • The Chair by Galen Cranz

    I sit for 10+ hours a day in a chair, better learn something about what it’s doing to my body.

  • Red Mars by Kim Stanely Robinson

    OK so I found books 2 and 3 of this trilogy on a stoop on my block this summer, then picked up this first book to dive in. It’s a big, big world! and the story is pretty hard sci-fi. I found it intriguing, but rough around the edges, especially the last hundred or so pages. But I see the appeal. More on this later.

  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

    I give this book five stars.

  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

  • Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

    Y’all, read this one too! One of the characters in the Overstory is based on Dr. Simard, and her book is also terrific. This planet we live on is a beautiful miracle and we have got to take better care of it.

  • Post Office by Charles Bukowski

    Another stoop book, but this one should be returned to sender.

  • Peow Ex Mag Vol 1 by Various

  • Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

  • A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety by Sarah Jaquette Ray

    Feeling anxious about global warming? You should read this book, it’s quick and helpful. I promise.

  • The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

    OK yeah so I realized it while reading this book and then stopped.

  • No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

    Oh my god this book is a fucking trip. I recommend reading it in one sitting while getting progressively wine drunk.

  • Green Mars by Kim Stanely Robinson

    I enjoyed Green so much more than Red. Hot take: but imo you can skip Red and just start here, it explains enough of the backstory anyway, and is way tighter of a book, despite being every bit as gargantuan as the book that precedes it.

  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

    And now I’ve read Fight Club.

  • Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanely Robinson

    Absolutely fucking loved this book. This is KSR at his best. It’s a meaty book with meaty ideas, and yet feels full of pep and vigour. Easily my favourite of his books I’ve read so far.

  • Truth of the Devine by Lindsay Ellis

Thanks for reading. I love you.

The Geography of a Program

I’m imagining my codebase as a kind of geographical map. Each class or type is like its own little community, and over time these grow larger as they contain more methods and properties. Sometimes they stay like neighbourhoods, but sometimes they grow into cities.

Maybe each module or framework becomes like a little province or country. And in each one is a different set of cultural customs and norms. Maybe in this place we use Strings for identifiers, while over there they use more strongly typed identifiers. In this province, lore is valued, so there are comprehensive docs, while in that province, maybe things are figured out more intuitively. And so on.

Does each place have a climate, perhaps, too? Is there an aroma to the fresh code as it blossoms in the spring of a sprint? Do the leaves fallen from aging syntax trees rustle and crunch underfoot as I traipse through a code path?

As a programmer, I tend to inhabit one area of this map more than the others. I’ve got to act like a local, learn the customs, or try to share my own, while my teammates do the same. Are we shepherds? Gardeners? Urban planners? Colonizers? How do we navigate such strange cities?

Now Now, March 2021

Everyone liked last month’s post so now you get another one. I skipped February because fuck that month, what a dreadful month. (Unless your birthday or something happens to be in February in which case Happy Birthday, I hope it was a gas.)


Mixed feelings on reading this month, friends. I finished The Liar’s Dictionary and spent a good chunk of the last month growing my way through The Overstory. Simply put, I think this book changed me. It’s a tale of trees and the people who briefly pass by them, the miracles grown out of thin air. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

And then, in the depths of winter, isolated during a still-raging pandemic, I thought to myself “You know, I ought to read Stephen King’s The Shining next” and here I am, my bookmark plunged deeply between its middle pages. Against all odds I am loving this book. Reading mostly from the young Danny’s point of view, there’s something strangely familiar about it, like something I remember from a dream. That’s probably childhood, for you.


The loaf I was baking when I wrote my last post turned out seemingly great: looked pretty, smelled good, and even tasted great, but unfortunately it did not sit well. For now at least, it seems like from-scratch gluten free bread is just not for me.

This week I returned to a box mix and that turned out excellent, and has left my gut happy. So, a win?


A year now into this pandemic.

I’m thinking about when it started last March. I was pretty scared. For most of my life I’ve been scared of illnesses (it’s a whole thing), and so this “novel coronavirus” thing and the fear around it maybe wasn’t so novel to me. But it was to just about everyone else. We all locked down at the same time here in New York as though we’d all been snowed in. Not safe to go outside! we thought, and we wouldn’t even if we could! And in that waking nightmare we needed each other desperately, and I had more phone calls and video calls with my friends and family than I’d ever had in my whole life. And truth be told I miss how desperately we needed each other.

As we collectively settled in and the nightmare became slightly more lucid, as the fear that had swelled retreated like a sea tide, the phone calls and the video hangouts slowly ebbed away with it.

Summer came and and our faces grew masks, and we felt safe enough to see each other, tentatively, outdoors. And it was so good to see faces not blurred or buffered, even if it was just the top halves of them. Friends left and came back and some moved away, for “for now"s that eventually slipped into “for ever"s. Everything is complicated, every life has more going on behind the scenes than you could ever fathom. You realize you thought you were behind some of those scenes, too, only to learn there was more lurking behind another curtain.

The unthinkable becomes unremarkable before I can catch my breath.

A year ago I was quivering with anxiety through my waking and sleeping hours, but I’m not now. As a tech worker, as a recovering germaphobe, as an introvert, I’m kind of poised to flourish in this work from home environment. But I am starving to hear the laughter of my friends, the symphony of our conversations, a one on one dialogue nestled in among crisscross of our collective jabberings.

There will come a day, there will come a day.

Now, Now (January 2021)

What now, now? More and more (or less and less) I’ve been feeling like putting stuff on the web just ain’t for me anymore, especially not on advertising platforms like Twitter or Instagram. And maybe, maybe not on this blog either. Yet I do still enjoy writing, even if I don’t do as much of it as I’d enjoy. So I thought I’d take a stab, no, a stroke, at writing one of these style posts, a “now” page. My favourite incantation of this sorta thing is probably Tom MacWright’s Recently posts.

Think of this sort of thing as a journal entry you get to read, a taste of what you might get if you phoned me up and let me blather for an hour or so.


January’s been a good reading month for me. I finished reading the third (fourth?) Lord of the Rings book, The Return of the King and overall loved the saga. Until last year I haven’t been one for too much of the fantasy genre, but this series was a tremendous introduction. When I was younger, I’d tried to read the books but found them tedious, boring, and too descriptive of blades of grass. I regret my disdain for Tolkien’s writing and am now quite jealous of it. The kind of writing that makes me want to write.

Then a quick diversion to Malaka Gharib’s graphic memoir, I Was Their American Dream, showed me a perspective of America I don’t read often enough.

Most recently, I finished reading John Green’s Paper Towns, a book I wish I could have read in high school, although it was yet to be published. This book deserves its own future blog post, so I’ll leave it here for now.

Now, I’m reading promiscuously, both Eley Williams’s The Liar’s Dictionary and Richard Powers’s The Overstory and I’m enraptured by both. The hard part about juggling books like this is wanting to hold them both at the same time. The other hard part about juggling these two particular books is the worlds they build have the depth you could disappear into. Being loosely about dictionaries and trees, respectively, each page is introducing me to new words and worlds, imploring my exploring. I’m taking notes and diving deep, excited to see where I’ll come out the other side.

(Maybe it’ll inspire some blog posts too?)


I’ve been gluten free since 2009, which is, among other things, a long time to go without good bread. Since 2020 was the year we all became peasants again, I decided it was time to try some baking. I bought a box of gluten free bread mix in May and then (for no reason) waited until the end of November to bake it, to mouthwatering success. I’m telling you, friends, I had an emotional reaction to the loaf.

This month, I’ve tried making a loaf from scratch and have had mixed results. OK, I’ve only made one loaf so far, and it wasn’t good. But I’m now (as in now now, as in as I write this) making my next attempt. The dough is currently raising as I’m writing this post.

Regardless, making this bread from scratch, by hand (by which I mean, by arm) has been a challenge, and I’ve also decided it’s time to buy an automatic mixer.


Fucking sucks, still.

Raspberry Pi

In a recent depressed moment, I decided it was time I bought myself a Raspberry Pi computer. I can’t believe how tiny this thing is! What will I do with it? Probably nothing, yet. I have had the dream of making my own operating system since I was a kid (who didn’t?) and I think it’d be fun to make some kind of alternative UI for it.

But, that’ll likely turn into a forever project for me, and I’m trying to avoid those. For now, the Pi remains a fun trinket.

Bye Bye

OK, that’s good for now. Maybe I’ll do one of these next month? Thoughts? You have to tell me. Bye.

Maps, Books, and Code

Recently, Tom MacWright tweeted about something near and dear to my heart:

Tom: though i ❤️ thinking about this problem, every time that linear-plain-text is proposed as the problem with programming, i wonder about books. would novels or nonfiction benefit from explanatory arrows or nonlinear spatial layouts?

Rasmus Andersson: For example, why don’t we use multiple columns to express concurrency in our program code? This is how most of us write code; in a linear fashion. Then we use our powerful brains to internally in our minds convert what’s on the screen to what is actually happening (arrows.)

Tom: i think i’m circling around the unpopular opinion that “visual thinking is wildly overrated”

I’m going to be a bit unfair and reply to these tweets in a longer blog post.

For Tom’s main question, “would novels or nonfiction benefit from explanatory arrows or nonlinear spatial layouts?” I think the answer is probably loosely “yes they would, but it’s complicated.” For starters, there are plenty of books which don’t require much beyond words (or some that are better because they’re only made of words), primarily works of fiction. These books are made entirely with words in mind, and words and the readers’s experience with those words is the point of these books. A novel “augmented” with a nonlinear spatial layout might be interesting, but it might also no longer be a novel.

But what about explanatory books? For these kinds of texts, while words alone might be passable, their explanations are augmented and enriched by images: pictures, graphics, diagrams, etc. And sure enough, there are tons of books like this (for a survey, check out some of Edward Tufte’s books cataloguing them). Many of these books are primarily linear, but often feature breaches in the linearity with images and cross references.

Comics especially excel at this, despite them being primarily “sequential art,” they benefit from the spatial arrangement of their panels, which can result in larger meanings. See this Nerdwriter video about a page of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. For more about the explanatory potential of the medium of comics, whose information is more rooted in image than in word, see Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening.

(There are also choose your own adventure books, which are decidedly less linear works of fiction, but they’re aimed more at play than they are at explanation. See also Doug Dorst and JJ Abrams’s S “novel”.)

I’m certain Tom and anyone else reading this post knows there are benefits to explanatory books that are more than just words, and that there are books benefiting from more spatial, less linear arrangements. You might ask “then, why aren’t all books like this?” to which I’d say probably two reasons:

For starters, these kinds of books are more “expensive” to make, both in terms of production costs (images can be ink heavy), but more importantly in terms of skill. Modern Western education centres words, but marginalizes images as the fringe we call “art” (see Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (especially its first few chapters) and Max Kreminski’s thread about individual style in drawing for arguments in favour of drawing education as a general purpose thinking tool). True, ours is a culture with plenty of images on televisions and computers, but those images are made by a relatively small portion of the population.

And secondly, books are limited by the physical world they inhabit. It’s not arbitrary that most books are the generally small, generally hand-holdable size that they are. Most books tend toward a size and weight that can be carried around and held in somebody’s hand, comfortably. The limit of hand size and wrist strength, along with the resolution a typical human eye can read make it harder to conveniently fit useful spatial layouts. This is the reason why many explanatory books are published in larger trim sizes, and why some are relegated to the “coffee table book” status.

A paper map might be spatially and informationally rich, but you usually need to lay it out on a table to read it. And if you want to read some building stories, you may need a couple of tables.

Anyway, I think explanatory books would benefit from a post-text, post-linear world where more text is augmented not only by images, but also arrangement. It’s just hard, especially with paper, to do it.

Now back to our regular programming

Regular programming being, “linear-plain-text,” would that benefit from non-linear, spatial arrangements? You can probably guess that I’m going to say yes, but I’ll start by saying that program code is already non-linear in structure. Code cross references itself all over the place in every single source code file — just about every line of code could be thought of like a hyperlink to another piece of code (and indeed, many code editors let you navigate around your files as though the code statements were hyperlinks). But while the structure of code involves a ton of non-linearity, the presentation of code is more or less shackled to line-after-line, just like the teletypewriters our command lines (and thus code) emulate.

I think you could augment just about every aspect of our plain text code edited in linear text editors — there’s a whole orchard of low hanging fruit here. For starters, code editors seem resigned to monospaced type at a single font size, ignoring fundamental graphic design / typography principles (eg hierarchy and scale, etc).

Then there’s the linear layout of code. Rasmus’s multi-column with arrows mockup itself probably wouldn’t be that great, but I think the spirit of what he’s attempting is good: busting source code files out of their text-like layout. Code Bubbles (video demo) is another, perhaps more fleshed out prototype of a code editor not bound by the flow of text in a file.

I think this is a fertile area for research, as we’re just barely scratching the surface of how to explore and edit large, dynamic, non-linear systems. I also think breaking out of laptop (or even iMac-sized) screen real estates would help immensely too (see Dynamicland and Bret Victor in general, but also pre-computer systems-exploring tools for some starting points on this). I think arrows, columns, “live programming” might be necessary starts, but I don’t think they’re sufficient.

While Tom says he’s “circling around the unpopular opinion that ‘visual thinking is wildly overrated,’” I think it’s more true that today’s “programming skill” means excelling at not thinking visually, because the visuals just aren’t available to us. Or maybe put another way, programming today means excelling at thinking visually, inside your head, instead of thinking with visuals available to you from your tools.

So, it’s mostly true that skilled programmers can get by (though, I’d say, are tremendously hobbled) without visual thinking tools, but I’m of the opinion that if programming involved thinking with visual tools from the getgo, things might be a hell of a lot easier.

You could imagine a world where cartography never incorporated drawings of territories, and instead relied solely on written descriptions of land. “To the west is a mountainous range, with several large rivers emptying to a gulf in the south.” In such a world, there would no doubt be practised experts, capable of envisioning in their minds the described area. But these written maps would clearly suffer from a lack of depictions.

I think we’re in a similar place with programming, where we must rely solely on written descriptions, and seldomly if ever are we able to make use of drawn depictions. While cartographic maps might have a slightly easier time depicting the land that’s out there, there’s also the notion that maps are abstractions (ie the map is not the territory). What we model with programming is also an abstraction, a model of some territory, but we’re stuck picturing it in our heads. And I think the dynamic terroir of computer programming invites more exploration and experimentation to see what’s really out there.

1000 Books, Year 6

(Part of my “Jason is trying to read 1000 books” series. Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5)

At points this year, I could barely read at all. Other times, I felt like all I wanted to do was be buried in a book. Maybe your year was like so too. Whether you met your reading goals or not, I’m sure you did your best.

By some miracle, I read 37 books this year. Some, I loved deeply and others…weren’t for me :)

Here’s what Jason fell in love with in 2020 (and other books):

  • Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister.

    Wish I had read this one at a younger age!

  • No One Is Too Small To Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg.

  • Rusty Brown by Chris Ware.

    Ware do I begin with this one? His style and use of the comic form is impeccable, but the work is also mired in self loathing that can make it a hard read at times.

  • The Perfect Pencil by Caroline Weaver.

  • Measurement by Paul Lockhart.

  • Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata.

  • Semiosis by Sue Burke.

    Science Fiction novel about sentient alien plants?? What’s not to love?

  • Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer.

  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

    I adored this book, which, despite being from the Maritimes of Canada (where the book takes place), I’d never read it! Shame. I was pretty sick when I read this book (maybe with Covid?), but it was just what I needed.

  • We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    Eye opening essays about America and Barack Obama.

  • Best American Comics 2019 by Various Authors.

  • How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi.

    This one was a little different than I expected, but eye opening and perspective shifting.

  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

    Loved loved loved this! I’d never read any of these books before, but had some of my happier memories while reading this one. Last book before quarantine.

  • Opus by Satoshi Kon.

  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

  • Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch.

  • Dune by Frank Herbert.

    Kind of a dry read.

  • Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

  • My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki.

    If I didn’t already have a gluten dietary restriction, I might have become a vegetarian after reading this one.

  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

    I’ve attempted this book before, and still didn’t make it alllll the way through it this time around, but I am slowly becoming better at drawing and it’s thanks in part to this book.

  • The Ballad Of Songbirds And Snakes by Suzanne Collins.

    An OK read, but kind of too long. I don’t think it really had a story worth telling, unlike the original Hunger Games books.

  • Little Weirds by Jenny Slate.

    I adored this book and it was possibly my favourite read of the year. I recommend reading it on paper, and then listening to Slate reading the audiobook. Much needed happy tears.

  • Starting Point by Hayao Miyazaki.

    Essays from early in his career as an animator. Not a work ethic I can say I agree with.

  • The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.

  • Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam.

    Bad year to read this one.

  • Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams.

  • Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis.

    Possibly my favourite fiction read of the year! A fun, accessible, and thoughtful “first contact with an alien” story. It was a blast to read, and I can’t wait for the sequels.

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien.

    I used to be afraid of these books. In my memory, they were each thousand page tomes of slow, dry writing.

    But kid Jason was an idiot and my memories were wrong. This book was a fun read. Not quite as plucky fantasy as The Hobbit, but not as dark as I’d expected either.

  • What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren.

  • Technopoly by Neil Postman.

  • Fleabag: Scriptures by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

    I maybe (definitely) fell in love with Phoebe Waller-Bridge this year.

  • Understanding Options by Michael Sincere.

  • The Stories of English by David Crystal.

  • Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut.

  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.

    A damning book about America’s caste system, and how it compares and contrasts to India and Nazi Germany’s caste systems. One of the best books I read all year.

  • The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien.

    It’s nice to get lost in a book, to escape somewhere that feels safe and familiar. I hadn’t planned on reading a 3rd Middle Earth book this year, but I needed to, for self care reasons.

    Also I’m officially a Treebeard stan.

  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor.

Here’s to the next 803 books!

In Pieces

It’s the early Fall of 2018 and you (in this story, you play me) are traipsing through your new favourite book store, Books Are Magic, in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon and your eyes are flitting over book covers just the same jazzy way they’d look at the different parts of a face.

You see a photo of a young Sally Field, adorning her newly published memoir. She’s young and beautiful, and you think that most recently, you saw her playing Aunt May in the late 2000s Spiderman reboot movies, but they tried to make her look older than she can possibly be.

She can’t be old because she’s the mom from Mrs. Doubtfire, maybe the only sane one in the whole shebang. And you think how you used to love that movie, how satisfying it was to see the dad, divorced from his wife and divorced from his kids, who he clearly loved dearly, sneak back into their lives. This was a fantasy you couldn’t articulate: the dad, gone, yet there; present even after you left his house and returned to your house, coming home with you in a way that didn’t involve the smell of his cigarettes on your clothes.

The dad, the charming goofball, himself really just a big kid. Despite the absurdity of it all, you always felt a deep truth, reality to the movie. And you, adult you, say ahhh and you get it now, you get why Sally Field was so exasperated, trying to take care of her kids and this additional fully-grown man child, to borrow her phrase, the whole time.

Their separation in the movie makes you think back on your own separation from your own wife that that lasted for five Earth-months, which is actually nineteen heart-years, and that just ended what feels like four seconds ago. But this separation wasn’t because you were an adult child, but because forty something million adult Americans decided to put a child in charge of their country and that child hates you for the bizarre reason that you were born in a place that is Not America.

As your eyes continue to dance over this photo of Young Sally, you’re struck with the feeling that Current Sally probably chose this photo to be emblematic, to represent her, and you’re struck with some kind of sadness that the symbol to stand for her is one from the past, and that probably one day too, you’ll have the photo taken of you (if you haven’t already) that you’ll want to be remembered by, that you’ll wear as a You-mask while underneath you gnarl and wilt. You half-heartedly resolve to always carry that flag forward with you, but you wonder if maybe Sally has her own reasons, too.

You don’t buy the book, but you probably should?

Speed of Light Turns 10

Holy living fuck, my blog is ten years old today! That’s right, on May 1, 2010 I took the wraps off my new website and tweeted about it to make it official. Ten years and 686 posts later, here we are. To celebrate, I want to do a quick look back at ten of my favourite posts — kind of a greatest hits of the blog. They’re not necessarily the most popular posts on the site, more of a hitchhiker’s guide to my last ten years of writing.

  • The iPad Review, April 2010. Astute readers will note this post is actually from before the blog officially launched, but this was because I wanted to have a few meatier posts on the site before going public. There was a month or two where I beta tested the site privately with some friends before tweeting about it.

    This post was probably the first “good” post I wrote in that time, a lengthy and hearty review of what was at the time a pretty exciting device. I’d never written a review like this outside of school projects, so this was exciting new ground for me. (See also Thoughts on Thoughts on Flash for another post of similar vintage.)

  • Calca Review and Interview, July 2013. This post was a big deal for me, as it was the first one to get linked to by Daring Fireball, prompting me to quickly dissolve into an excited mess. At the time, my blog was pretty obscure and didn’t have many readers, but after this link? Well, it remained mostly pretty obscure and didn’t gain too many readers, but boy what an exciting afternoon.

  • Walking Around in My Thoughts, February 2016. This is it, this is the post, what I consider my favourite and perhaps the quintessential post on Speed of Light. Of all the words I’ve written on this site, this collection is the one I’m most proud of.

    It feels like all the writing I’d done on the site until this point only mattered so much as to bring me to this post. My writing until here served to sharpen my thinking skills, to explore my ideas with words. And that’s kind of the point of that post itself, actually: I was thinking through my writing, and I finally got to a point where those exercises bore fruit and I could distill the ideas into one post (er, two posts).

  • Don’t Kill Time, November 2012 and Don’t Kill Time 2, January 2017. These posts are maybe my two other favourite posts on the site, not necessarily because they’re my best writing, but because they express an idea that’s really stuck with me: time is precious and a lot of the tech world feeds and profits off it — to our serious deficit. Time flies when you’re powering surveillance capitalism, so don’t!

  • Writing Every Day March 2016. This post emblemizes an era of this site I like to refer to as the Great Writing Season of 2016, or more colloquially as “Jason’s gonna try to blog every weekday, indefinitely, and we’ll see how that goes.” In short, it went terrifically! For a few months in the Spring of 2016 I wrote more or less a post every weekday. They varied in topic, tone, length, and quality, but it was an energizing time for me as a writer. What started as a sizeable list of post ideas quickly became a wellspring of new areas to write and think about.

    In the time since, I’ve tried to recapture the stride I had in 2016, but I’m reminded writing is hard, and like all creative endeavours, it privileges those with the means, time, and mental wellbeing to devote to it. I just haven’t had that winning combination since.

  • Thoughts on Thoughts on Bret Victor’s Learnable Programming, May 2013. You didn’t think you were going to make it through a post about Speed of Light without seeing at least one mention of Bret Victor, did you? Ahh, 2013 was a good time to be a BV superfan. This was a fun post, summarizing and reacting to lots of reactions to Bret’s Learnable Programming essay. Eventually, this post landed me a job at Hopscotch!

  • Dynabook and the App Store, February 2015. You didn’t think you were going to make it through a post about Speed of Light without seeing at least one mention of Alan Kay, did you? In this post, I distilled much of my thinking about Alan’s work and vision, and why it’s so strangely misunderstood and misremembered. Sadly, I’m not sure the world has got the hint yet. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

  • A Whimsical Walk Around Austin Kleon’s Brick Notes, August 2017. Frankly, I wish I did more of these sorts of posts over the years. It’s just me, describing a crapload of links I’d clicked on from a given starting point. Ambling on the web like this used to be one of my favourite things to do, back when people blogged about things and not everything existed on Facebook or Twitter’s servers.

  • How to Read a Lot of Books, October 2016. In recent years, this blog went from mostly tech posts, to mostly books posts, as I spent most of the last decade rekindling my love of reading books. This post was one of many book related posts with the sly goal of encouraging more of my tech friends to read more books (full books, on paper, including fiction, and ones authored by not-white-men). I don’t know if I ever changed anybody’s mind with this (or any other) post, but here’s one of my shots.

  • 1000 Books, November 2015. The first of many of a post I look forward to making every year: what books did Jason fall in love with over the past 12 months? I’ve been slowly cataloguing my reads on this site since 2015, as part of my life-long goal of reading 1000 books (since I started counting). I’m about 200 books in at this point, but this post chronicled my first year.

And there it is, ten of my favourite posts from my last ten years of public writing on this site. My style has changed, the topics have varied, but I’ve pretty much always enjoyed doing it.

If you’ve been a reader since the start, since today, or any time in between, I want to sincerely thank you and I hope you’ve enjoyed it thus far.

Healthy in Paranoid Times

Coronavirus Diary 1

Life goes on.

Schools are canceled, shops are closed, businesses are shut down, and in New York City, restaurants are delivery / pickup only. But life goes on?

~ ~ ~

I absolutely cannot focus at work. Can anyone? I’m trying, I’m really trying here, even without reading the news all damn day long, but it’s hard to focus deeply on my work when the world is happening out there. Yet, I’m paid the big bucks, have healthcare, have a safety net. I’m grateful for this miracle and should make the most of it while I can. But it’s a struggle.

~ ~ ~

Talked to Mom tonight on the phone. She’s overall good. Somewhat freaked out, but mostly good. She’s had a winter cough for months, but in the last day or two it’s left her feeling unusually short of breath, so she’s slightly worried. But thankfully, no fever yet. She’s ready to call the doctor if things get worse, though.

Called Dad too, and was relieved to hear he’s on board with the quarantine, with hand washing, with even keeping the kids at home. I expected to have to convince him to take this seriously, but the man never ceases to surprise me, and I’m glad I don’t have to change his mind. Today.

Myself? I’m having about one mild panic attack (a term I don’t use lightly) per day, and am trying to get that under control. They stem mostly from uncertainties I won’t write about here, because, well, they’re uncertain and that’s not going to help any nervous readers out there. Beyond that I’m doing okay. Body is healthy, appetite is healthy. Trying to talk to friends and family as much as I can. It’s early days yet. Early, early days. And I’m trying to keep ahead of feelings of isolation as best I can. Text threads, calls, and video chat are my remedy thus far.

~ ~ ~

Life goes on. But it’s so supremely weird! We’re self-quarantined and taking it day by day. No one thing feels too out of place given the world today, but at a macro-level: we’re fucking quarantined?? The foreground is fine, but the background is chaos.

Life goes on.

1000 Books, Year 5

[Editor’s note: Well well well, look who’s months late to posting his end of reading-year book list? Let me tell you my friends, a few hours after I started writing this post, indeed in November, life calamity began. But anyway, pretend it’s mid-November 2019 still, if you can bear it. Love, Jason]

The November morning air is cold, and so are my fingers. It’s early and the sun yawns awake, but barely. As I dust the cobwebs of sleep off my mind, I begin to reflect on the year of reading drawing to a close. 41 books this year, I think to myself, that’s a personal best. Some of these books were re-reads for me and felt like visiting old friends: of course I’ve changed since we last met, but seemingly, so have they. And then there are the remaining books, new friends! This year, much more than any previous year, they’re works of fiction. Stories, tales, tomes, some of them. Many of them, I realize, are kind of bummers, but as my taste refines, as I read more and more for pleasure, for what I want to read, I realize, wait a sec, that stories can be funny, too. Um, duh.

So here’s to another year of books. Another celebration of learning, of stories told, and of the love of reading.

Here are all the books I fell in love with, trudged my way through, or otherwise just read in the past year:

  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

    I’ve read this book three times now, and it seems like it gets better with each pass (in reality: I’ve grown!), and what more could you ask for out of a book? This book isn’t just an excellent book about comics, nor just an excellent comic book itself. It’s also a foundational text on media studies, the abstraction and meaning of the graphical form, and just a great fuckin read.

  • Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

    A weird book about the tremendously weird consciousness of octopuses. I feel lucky to live in a world with these enchanting creatures, and I’m glad somebody tried to write a book about them.

  • Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer.

    The conclusion to Jeff’s Southern Reach trilogy, which began with Annihilation. I think the middle book, Authority was my fave of the series, but Acceptance is a solid, narratively daring ending.

  • The Art of Awareness by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter.

  • Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut.

    A surprise gift (thanks Anna!), this was one of my favourite reads of the year. A story blatantly told to your face from the first second, hilarious in its obviousness, in a “I can’t believe I have to say this!” way. Vonnegut at his best. As I’ve said many times before, everyone should read more of this fella.

  • Blackkklansman by Ron Stallworth.

    God damn, racists are fuckin stupid.

  • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich.

  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean.

    A book about libraries I scribbled the hell out of. Sorry librarians.

  • Brave Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani.

  • Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson.

  • Keep Going by Austin Kleon.

    Thank you for making me cry on the subway, Austin!!

  • Making Comics by Scott McCloud.

    One day I’ll make comics again…

  • God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut.

  • The World of Edena by Mobieus.

    Just gorgeous.

  • Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand.

  • Girls Write Now by Various Authors.

  • The Beach by Alex Garland.

    No relation.

  • Mismatch by Kat Holmes.

    A new passion for me this year: software accessibility (thanks Ivy)!

  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards.

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

    This book is kinda fucked up. But as a former poor child, it’s always been kinda satisfying to see rich kids get their shit wrecked.

  • Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

  • Paper Girls Vol 1 by Brian K. Vaughan.

  • The Plant Mesiah by Carlos Magdalena.

    We as a culture have a decent grasp on endangered species of animals, but can barely grapple with endangered plants. This plant preservation book is a great introduction.

  • Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan.

    Birthday sci-fi reading, part 1. (Thanks Kate)

  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

    And part 2. (Thanks Kate)

  • Severance by Ling Ma.

    This was a weird one! It didn’t really live up to its jacket description in the sense that it wasn’t satirical like The Office, but it was still excellent. A dark, damning tale of New York City publishing, of consumerist capitalism, of the global supply chain. And zombies-that-are-not-zombies.

  • Arithmetic by Paul Lockhart.

    The best book about math I’ve ever read. It’s clear Paul has a deep love for math as the aesthetic artform that it is. The book just drips with affection not only for math, but for all learners and thinkers. I scribbled the hell out of my copy.

  • Paper by Mark Kurlansky.

    Believe it or not, this book about paper was boring as shit.

  • Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware.

    Chris Ware, as always, leaving me staggered. The relentless geometry of his panels, the exquisite innovation of the comic form (my favourite: the abstract, icon-based thought bubbles representing mere wisps of ideas or feelings), the interplay of the drab and the vibrant. And yet the book just drips with melancholy.

  • The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies.

  • Orwell on Truth by Geoge Orwell.

  • How To by Michael Bierut.

  • Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf.

    A knockout book about how the reading brain works and what phones are doing to it. Hint: turn off your phone.

  • A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma.

  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.

    A beautiful, Canadian epic. (Thanks Mom!)

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

    I first read this book about 10 years ago and found it didn’t really take. But things are different now and I absolutely loved it this time around.

  • Picking Up by Robin Nagle.

  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams.

    Just can’t get enough.

  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

    This was probably my favourite read of the year. It was relentlessly funny, biting, at once ancient and timeless. Were I in better spirits myself right now, I’d probably write a full post about this one, but suffice it to say I just flat out loved it, and I think you might too.

  • Guts by Raina Telgemeier.


  • The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer.

Here’s to the next 840 books!

The Baffling Omission of Rich Text in SwiftUI

My hands tingle with anticipation as I climb the stairs to my office. Feels like first date jitters, I admit to myself, embarrassed. Today’s the day, today’s finally the day. This is no first date, I know, but I’m practically sprinting to my desk. After months of pleading, my boss finally caved and bought me a Macintosh, and promised to have it on my desk by morning.

Oh, there you are, hello my little friend. I’ve seen you on television but somehow you’re even smaller than I expected. I hurry to my chair and shuffle in close, spilling my coffee out of its Styrofoam takeout cup onto the instruction manual sitting on my desk. My fingers dance over the keyboard in a wave, like I imagine a pianist might do. Reaching around back, I flick the thumb sized power switch and even through the din of the office, I hear the computer hum to life. Across the miniature black and white television screen flickers a smile and I realize I’m looking at a face.

I rest my hand on the mouse and wiggle it around, watching the arrow on the screen. Look at it go. I click around a bit, feeling hamfisted. Suddenly I remember learning to hit a baseball, knowing in my mind but not in my body how to do it. Yet. I’ll get the hang of this, and for now I take a small pleasure in my left hand today feeling just as dumb as my right hand does every other day.

Finally, I manage to open a document. My eyes stare at the keyboard — through the keyboard — as my brain upturns every memory in search of long lost typewriting skills. The chickens formerly known as my index fingers peck at the keys beneath them, slowly and deliberately, and clobber out “Hello my name is Jason” in beautiful type. The greyscale screen looks like newsprint to me. I clutch the mouse, squeeze down its button, and slide it across the desk, streaking my sentence with a black highlight. Above it, I select a new font and see the text magically rewrite itself in a new script. Again. Again. Now one word at a time, each in a different font, my declaration looks more like a ransom note than a newspaper, but it’s a miracle nonetheless.

Like everyone, I’ve read about computers over the years. They seemed great for scientists, I guess, but I couldn’t be bothered with them. Until a friend of mine showed me this issue of Rolling Stone about some people at Xerox who put a whole damn print shop in a computer on your desk. Imagine that. To me, the most computers ever did was spit out giant reams of receipt paper. Not much to look at. But here were these computers that reminded me of my student newspaper job. Only you didn’t have to fiddle with lead type and get ink on your hands. These things were incredible, but cost about as much as a small house. Ah well, maybe some day!

And then one day I see the Macintosh and I think, that’s it. Everyone I know has to write things, and this little box is going to be the future. Everyone will have their own print shop on their desk. We’ve been chiselling in stone and somebody’s just handed us pen and paper. Only this thing lets you write like a newspaper. It can make things black or tilted, in different sizes, in different fonts. I bet one day, even in different colours.

Paging through the instruction manual, it suddenly dawns on me: I could make this manual with this computer, and this is obviously the future for everybody else, too. I can’t imagine it any other way.

~ ~ ~

This summer Apple revealed its new SwiftUI framework for creating rich user interfaces. And though the platform is brand new and just a starting point, I was quite surprised to find it doesn’t offer any rich text display or editing. You can style text with fonts and colours and the like, but the style applies to the whole run of text. There’s no equivalent components for creating a rich text editor in SwiftUI yet.

It will come, hopefully, but it’s a strange omission to me, given that rich text / desktop publishing is essentially the raison d’être of the personal computing industry and was the original backbone of the world wide web. Even though the world has largely moved on from printing paper documents, we still regularly read typographically rich documents all the time (e.g. web pages), and I’d love to see the legacy of personal computing devices, capable of creating such rich graphics, carry forward.

So SwiftUI developers, if you’re reading this, I implore you to expand your framework to support rich text editing. It’s a foundational, defining quality of graphical user interfaces, and it’s sorely missed. It may not change the world, but it certainly will make it nicer to read.

Lessons from the Group Chat: Statuses

A few months ago, my iMessage group chat between myself, my wife, and our good friend Jasdev Singh, was lamenting the absence of user “status” in iMessage. Sometimes you want to let the group know where you’re at, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally, but without necessarily needing to describe it in ongoing messages.

This is something previous generations of IM tools like MSN or AIM had, but modern chat tools largely lack. Alas, this generation is largely lacking the concept of status / away messages entirely. And since iMessage is not user-extensible, we’re mostly out of luck.

Thankfully, this group chat of ours doesn’t shy away from getting meta about the chat itself — we’re no stranger to regularly discussing issues like these while we try to evolve the chat itself. One small way we’ve traditionally played with this is by routinely updating the name of the chat when the mood (or humour) requires it.

This, coupled with the design idea of prototyping / “fake it till you make it” prompted me to try something: what if we put our status in the group chat name? For example, we’ll typically call our chat something like “toasty eeps (Jasdev: Day-long allergy shots round ✌🏽, Kate: “Can you do it?!”, Jason: JAYCATION).” Here we’ve got the name of the chat, followed by individual “statuses” (which are sometimes words or sometimes just emoji). It turns out, this is quite effective! In some ways, it feels a bit like drawing with shit crayons — desperately eking out what meagre bits we can out of Apple’s rigourous control — but it does work.

Now we can ambiently let each other know what we’re up to. It’s far from ideal, but that’s the current status.

How to Read a Flood

As it does most years around this time, my hometown’s (Fredericton, New Brunswick) Saint John River has flooded its banks, causing some streets to close and leaving general traffic mayhem in its wake. While watching the chaos, I realized it might make for an interesting project for children to explore and learn about. In doing so, they could learn to think in systems of all kinds, from natural systems like waterways and seasons, to human-made systems like urban planning and colonialism. These sorts of systems, and these ways of thinking, are grounded in the world of the child and prepare them to think in powerful ways they’ll find useful throughout their lives.

Here are some things a classroom could do:

Ask the class: who was affected by the flood? Students who take the bus? Who get driven to school? Who walk or bike?

What happens to the city when the river floods? What roads are closed? What happens when those roads close? (Traffic backs up big time; many years there is traffic all the way up the city’s main hill!) How essential are those roads that were closed? All kinds of urban planning questions could be raised and explored here.

What caused the river to flood? Here’s an opportunity to talk about the seasons, snow / ice melt, and how natural systems interact with human / city systems.

It’s also an opportunity to talk about the city of Fredericton’s geography (it’s a river valley city). Why is Fredericton built as a river valley city? (how was it colonized by Europeans? why did they establish it on the river? were there indigenous settlements here before the Europeans came?). This is also a chance to discuss why Archie comics are so relatable to people in North America (there are so many “River Dale” cities, like ours!)

How does flood time compare to other events where streets are closed? (like a parade or when the Prime Minister visits) How does advanced notice help prepare? (and how do you let the city know about it?)

Finally, you could use the flood as a jumping off point for thinking about what kinds of tools you might use to think about a flood. You can look at it from a city planning perspective, with paper maps, rulers, etc. What do the maps show? What do the maps ignore? Are there different kinds of maps? How would you apply what you learn to other cities that have different layouts or geography? How might you deal with the flood differently? How might you prepare for it? What kinds of tools let you think about cities abstractly?

Fredericton’s annual flood is a concrete event that’s happening in the students’s city, in the place they’re familiar with, and it’s something that can prompt questions and get them to think about bigger pictures.

Compare this to the way maths (or worse, computers) are taught today: entirely abstract and detached reality, devoid of meaning and to most kids, utility. None of the things I discussed really require a computer, but it’s interesting to consider how you might explore those questions with the aid of a computer (and if such a computer doesn’t exist, what’s your wildest fantasy for what such a computer might look like that does?).

See also Doreen Nelson’s City Building / Design Based Education which probably does stuff like this and much more.

Anyway, happy flooding Freddy Beach!

Books Break the Shackles of Time

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Carl Sagan, Cosmos.

Less Than Thirty Seconds

“Next please; Suivant s’il vous plaît. Hello; Bonjour.”

“Uh, good afternoon.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“Uh, New York. Job interview.”

“Where are you going?”

“Uh, home? Fredericton.”

“Here you go. Welcome back.”

There Is a Mall

There is a Mall. It is owned by a company, but its doors are open to the public. It calls itself a town square. But it is a mall. It is owned by a company.

There are stores in this mall, where people can shop. There are chairs and benches in this mall, where people can talk.

There are nice people in this mall. There are mean people in this mall. There are Nazis in this mall, and racists, and sexists, and homophobes, too. There are more nice people than mean people, but the mean people are much, much louder in this mall. The nice people feel threatened in this mall.

From time to time an announcement comes over the PA system in the mall. It’s the mall owners. They say, “How can we make this mall better?” to which all the nice people cry out, “Kick out the mean people! the Nazis, the racists, the sexists, the homophobes too! They make us feel scared.”

Undeterred, the mall owners will reply over the PA system “We want to make the conversations in this mall healthier. We think the problem is the chairs and the benches are just not comfortable enough. We will be installing new chairs and new benches so you can have better conversations. Perhaps we’ll also fix the lights and the front door. Thank you for your input, we value your opinions.”

Hundreds of news articles are written about the coming improvements to the mall, breathlessly reporting about the upholstery of the new chairs, of the seating capacity of the new benches.

The man who owns the mall puts down the newspaper, proudly reflecting on a good day’s work. He sleeps eight hours that night, same as he does every night.


Outside, airplanes appear rather graceful, glimmering and gliding through the air. Sleek metal birds. But their insides betray this grace. Inside, they’re endlessly noisy. This rattles, that trembles, these hiss. Metals clink and clank. Outside, the wings wobble and roar while exhaust farts behind us and stains the sky.

~ ~ ~

This morning, while waiting to board my flight at an NY airport, I was saddened to see two Port Authority police officers (and later, a third) confront a man, white, fifties, who was at the gate filming out the window.

They asked him for his ID, his name, his travel agenda, and of course, why he dared film the airplanes? The man said he’s a video producer and he does it as a hobby. They asked to see his phone and his camera.

You see, they explained in gentle tones, that it’s suspicious to film in an airport and that of course it’s their duty to investigate, you understand, of course. While they did not speak forcefully, I refuse to describe them as “polite.” You can’t gang up on a man, as a trio of armed officers politely. It’s incompatible with politeness.

It’s so astonishingly sad that someone filming airplanes is considered suspicious, because that logic doesn’t hold up against the simplest of scrutiny. It’s action movie logic.

The officers, after taking notes, eventually told the man to “have a nice day” and left him alone. He didn’t appear obviously, outwardly distressed, but I could see that he was. This rattled, that trembled. He zipped up his bags before disappearing, if I had to guess, to go throw up in a garbage can from the stress.

~ ~ ~

Birds on the other hand are graceful, from what I can tell. No bird need roar in flight. No bird need shitstain the sky while it flaps, flutters, and glides. But maybe it does hiss and clank and rattle inside a bird. Does it gurgle? does the heart drum like thunder?

What It’s Like to Live in 2018

I’ve been trying to write this post the whole year, and it’s not so much a “year in review” post as it is one that I just ran out of days to write about 2018 so here we are.

The intention of this post, as its title suggests, is to write about what it feels like to be alive in this the year of our lord (Ariana Grande) 2018. To the reader of the future, be it me or be it you, I want to try to express what the mindset of one white Canadian man was, one who lived away, who lived at home, who tried, failed, failed, and finally succeeded at becoming a temporary immigrant (“the Resident Alien”) in the United States.

There are certain things I, the writer, know today that you, the future reader, may not know. The events of this year are fresh in my mind, but they haven’t all become history yet, because the histories just haven’t been written. And who writes them will determine, in part, how you, reader, get to learn about what this year was like. If for example Trumpism and the rampant gutting of the US’s government continue, it’s likely the history books will look favourably upon 2018 as a year of triumph. They shouldn’t. We know there is at least one major investigation going on into Trump’s campaign (“the Mueller Investigation”) but we don’t yet know what it’ll reveal nor do we know if it will matter in the end. It should.

On the other hand, you the future reader will undoubtedly know many things about this year that I just don’t — just can’t yet know. 2019 and years beyond will certainly reveal new truths about this time, leaks of secret meetings, revelations of wrongdoings, and so on. You might even one day have the benefits of clarity. You’ll likely have some kind of view point on this year and this era, some whole (or at least whole-er) perspective on what the living fuck was happening in the world, that I just am not yet privy to.

You may wonder, how did we let this all happen? How did a nation allow itself to be so blatantly abused? How did the rich profit so much? How did a president condone tearing nursing babies from their mothers’ breast? and how did a government not condemn its leader?

I’m hopeful you have more answers than me.

This year has felt like an eternity, somewhere between a slow drip and water torture. It’s been a year of violence — not just of war, shootings, and hate crimes, but psychological violence too. The deluge of scandal, the festering undertow of nastiness and spite, the abstraction of people into “illegals” and “resident aliens” and “caravans,” is a baseball bat to the mind. It shatters our ability to care, to make sense, to object. It is beyond numbing, it is pulverizing.


I try. I think we all do.

It’s 2018 and we’re doing the damn best we can do, those of us lucky enough to do so. In 2018 it’s a struggle, but we’re learning how to be resilient. We’re learning, slowly, how to be less cynical. We’re learning. And we’re coming. (And, those of us who can, are voting).

Research Notes: Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World

I’m in the midst of a mini design project for Beach that’s involved me taking some notes from Carl Sagan’s wonderful book The Demon Haunted World.

I’m always curious how other people do their research work so I thought I’d share a tiny bit of how I do mine. They’re available here as a pdf.

My process is ever-evolving (and unfortunately, largely self-taught too), but I think this is a neat snapshot of a day-in-the-life of working on Beach.

(ps: it’s a fantastic book and you should read it)

1000 Books, Year 4

Happy November 14 everyone! What’s everyone doing to celebrate the big day?

For those who don’t know, November 14 is the yearly anniversary of me starting my reading challenge that I began a few years ago:

[To] read a thousand books in my lifetime. I decided to start counting books I’d read since November 14, 2014 (although I’d read many books before this, I really only wanted to start counting then, so I could better catalogue them).

This year was quite a wild ride for me in far more ways than I can or will describe in this blog post, but as a summary I:

  • read 32 books!
  • crossed the 10% mark! (Star Wars: Aftermath was the hundredth book, lol)
  • basically discovered fiction for the first time in my life.
  • read too many books in airports.
  • cried multiple times while reading (and not reading) on the subway.

Anyway, here are the books Jason loved, hated, and overall read in Year 4 of his reading quest!

  • Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert.

This was the first book I read when I began my reading challenge in 2014 and this year seemed like a great time to revisit it. Since I’m a different person every time I read a book, it was a neat experience reflecting on how I’d changed since I’d last read it.

Mindstorms remains a remarkable book which you should (re-)read if you haven’t. Don’t get distracted by how Papert talks about computers; get distracted by how Papert talks about children, learning, and powerful ideas. In our shallow, callous pop culture, it’s nice to be reminded of deep, earth shaking ideas and an unfaltering belief in the potential of children.

  • Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Oh my god was it less than a year ago that I read this??

  • Speaking Out Louder, by Jack Layton.

Layton is probably Canada’s best Prime Minister who never got to be Prime Minister. This book, written before his untimely death, discusses big ideas for Canada and Canadians. Practical, rational, and hopeful.

  • Visual Intelligence, by David Hoffman.

Jesus I read this in January of this year?

  • Dear Data, by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec.

Good god it can’t be.

  • Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, by Frans de Waal.

How long was this fucking year?

  • At Home in the Universe, by Stuart Kauffman.

This book promised some pretty profound things about the underlying systems of the universe, but in my opinion spent a little too long admiring itself in the mirror rather than delivering on its ideas.

  • Slapstick, by Kurt Vonnegut.

Uproarious! Again I say, everyone should read more KV.

  • Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green.

Um. I refuse to believe I read this book in February. Nope. It was definitely ten years ago when I read this book.

  • Hunger Games: Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins.

Alright real talk: the I really enjoy the Hunger Games books. I love the narrative style, I love all the emotions Katniss goes through, I love the themes it explores, like how the rich profit off the broken backs of the poor, how opulence depends on suffering, how savage entertainment can be.

But 2018 was not the time for me to have read this book.

This book accompanied me to the US border where I was denied entry and separated from my family. This book accompanied me while I watched the US government tear children away from their parents and lock them in cages.

2018 was a year of physical, emotional, and psychological violence. And this book was a little too much for me.

  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King.

Don’t even.

  • Cognition in the Wild, by Edwin Hutchins.

Hope you like boats!!

  • The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.

God bless the greatest invention of all time: writing, such that we may still be haunted by Carl Sagan’s words decades after he left us.

This book argues for science as the most tested and true antidote to superstition and human….all around dumbness.

  • Star Wars: Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig.


  • Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.

What I wanted: everything I liked about the movie but diving deeper into the nerdier sciency stuff.

What I got: Everything I wanted.

  • The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King.

Hi I’m a white Canadian who knows relatively nothing about the past + present of my country’s indigenous peoples. King’s book provided an excellent starting point for an area of my country and culture I still know shamefully too little about.

  • Snot Girl Vol 1 & 2, by Leslie Hung & Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Beautiful and brilliant and juicy and hilarious.

  • Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer.

Last year I read (but didn’t love) VanderMeer’s Annihilation and was reluctant to read more of his books, but the cover to Borne intrigued me (some sort of sentient plant-baby that grows and learns?? hell yes). It was kind of a blast to read even if my original guess as to what it was about was way off.

It’s hard not to love the plant-baby tho.

  • Ramshackle, by Alison McCreesh.

Ugh really was this really 2018?

  • Star Wars: Aftermath 2, by Chuck Wendig.

Having never really read Star Wars books until this summer, I had fun with these two. But it’s made me realize: the universe of Star Wars only really makes sense in movies and doesn’t really translate super well to books.

I think books demand a little more coherence than do movies. In a movie, it’s more or less acceptable to have a “big bad evil government that does bad” and you can suspend disbelief without too much trouble. But in a book? Well, there’s gotta be backstory, there’s gotta be motivation, there’s gotta be more thought to what’s going on. And suddenly, Star Wars kinda falls apart a bit.

But hey, it was still a fun read and couldn’t we all use some more fun reads in our lives?

  • I Contain Multitudes, by Ed Yong.

You contain anecdotes.

  • Unflattening, by Nick Sousanis.

Loved this book! Felt like a spiritual successor to Understanding Comics and again reminds me how much unfulfilled potential the comic format has as a tool for explanation.

  • A Man Without a Country, by Kurt Vonnegut.

Re-read this bad boy on an airplane and christ it’s like jet fuel for your rational brain.

  • Alone Together, by Sherry Turkle.

Sherry gets me.

  • Scale, by Geoffrey West.

This was a good book that needed to be scaled to ¾ its actual size.

  • Authority, by Jeff VanderMeer.

Way better than Annihilation.

  • Creative Selection, by Ken Kocienda.

  • Reincarnation Blues, by Michael Poore.

My favourite book of the year, easily. It tells the story of Milo, a man who is given 10000 lives in which to attain “perfection.” It details in many heartwarming, sometimes sad, and always hilarious ways, he lives and dies.

A line in the book made me cry on the subway, so much I had to put the book away.

Then I re-read the line a few minutes later and damnit I cried all over again.

This book made me think about life and death in ways I hadn’t before. Some new things clicked for me. It made me think about time in new ways too. I can’t tell if I’m living my first or my last life, but I’m definitely living one hell of one.

Do you ever get that giddy feeling when you meet someone new who you just really click with? And you think, wow, this person is just fascinating! All you want to do is just hear more.

And then, oh fuck, they go and say something really awful and you cringe, and you think “No! I wanted you to have not said that, I wanted you to be better than that!” Do you know this feeling?

There were moments in this book when I felt like that. I loved this book, mostly, but there’s a chapter where, for no real reason! there’s the trope where a female character makes a false rape accusation against our male protagonist. And then he goes to jail and he suffers in all kinds of terrible ways. And frankly that’s just garbage. It’s a bad trope and it needs to die and I was so upset to read that in this book. I felt hurt by it, I felt like the book betrayed me.

Anyway, read the book, or don’t. I’d understand either way. But suffice it to say, it was a wild ride for me.

  • Here, by Richard McGuire.

Here’s another non-linear story about time, this one told by a graphic novel. It’s an expanded version of McGuire’s groundbreaking comic of the same name.

What an eerie trip this book was. Reading it, seated in the corner of my own living room, wondering “what has happened in this very room over the past century? What highs and what lows? Who has cried where I’m sitting? Who had happy birthday sung to them? How many puppies and kitties have slept here? What were their names? What was here before this building? What will be centuries from now?”

And how lovely is it that it only takes a few hours to read this book and experience all that for yourself?

  • The Hand, by Frank R. Wilson.

  • Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, by Dylan Horrocks.

  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire.

Story time.

It’s September 2018. I’m in Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

I have a friend who’s a big fan of popular education, a topic I know next to nothing about. But I figure I can find a book about it in this behemoth of a store. I remember the name of this book and its author, head to the education section to find it. I can’t find it.

To a sales clerk I say, I’m looking for this book, I’m not sure that you even have it, could you help me find it? and I show her the name.

She furrows her brow and says “Ooohhh, I know this book. This book is always hiding in the wrong places.” This book is a troublemaker, she says with her tone. This book is up to no good, she says with her eyes.

At last we find the book, this pesky book. This book that’s up to no good. And lo, this book is challenging, but rewarding. And if I’m being completely honest, which I am, it was a damn hard read that I’ll need to revisit when I’m feeling better.

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han.

I’m team Ms Rothschild.

Here’s to the next 881 books!

Retiring Why Not Fireworks

Quick PSA: I’m retiring my portfolio domain, and instead have moved everything over to this current Speed of Light domain. Links on the old domain will automatically re-direct to this domain for the coming while.

So, some updated links:

Why do this? Well, I realized in the last year or so one major flaw of the “websites are on domains” system is that the more distinct domains you control, the harder it is to maintain them all forever. Since the WWW is a thoughtlessly cobbled together mess of a publishing platform, the onus is on publishers (aka site owners) to ensure domains (and thus publications) stay up. Keeping multiple domains up forever is harder (and more expensive) than keeping just 1 domain.

So, from now on I want to keep as much as possible on a single domain, this one. The old portfolio domain will redirect here for a little while, but eventually it’ll go away (“please update your links” he says to an audience that surely will not). Eventually, I’d like to turn into less of a blog and more of a portfolio / homepage-of-me, but for now I’m leaving it alone.

I Am

Shocked. Amazed. Stupefied. Flummoxed. Flabbergasted. Stunned. Speechless.

Why are there so many words for this feeling?

A Ramble About the Slow Web

Sooooooooo I go back and forth about blogging. Sometimes I think, “hey I should blog all the time, every day. I should just blog about my day and stuff. And sometimes, write longer essays and whatnot, because so much of today’s writing happens in slacks or twitter and you can’t make any kind of good argument on those!”

But then again I think, hmmm, what if blogging shouldn’t exist? I kind of run with the assumption that because “blogging is dying” that means “blogging must be saved” and maybe that’s a faulty assumption. Maybe blogging was just this thing that happened for a while and that while is now passing.

Also, and this is a big also, I worry that people are inundated with stuff to read and process, and most of the time I don’t think my writing (especially the “this is what I did today” stuff) is worth adding on to those piles. We talk about The Feed but really it’s The Flood. And it’s not that I think my writing is terrible necessarily or anything, just that, I respect people’s attention (or maybe, I fear a global lack of concentration / understanding) such that I don’t want to derail it unless I have something Real Important to talk about, and usually I don’t.

There’s another possible world where I blog, but it’s a kind of lowkey affair, for those who want to check in on me from time to time (aka my friends!). And that’s a nice feeling. Or something like an online diary.

I’m constantly amazed by and enamoured with Jason Kottke, whose eponymous website has been running for nearly 20 years (and it’s his full time job). These days it’s a kind of “what Jason K finds interesting on any given day” but hey, since he’s been running the website for almost 20 years, some of it is kind of an online diary. I found myself looking at his archives for September 2001 today and it’s kind of incredible to read his feelings as the month goes by (I should say, it’s his + the world through his eyes’s feelings).

Another cool aspect of his website is he’s tagged most of his posts, so if you want to find neat stuff about maps or NYC or music or space or whatever, go wild. Years of the web at your disposal. This is kind of what my pinboard has become for me (and for anybody who stumbles across it): click on one of the tags and tumble down the rabbit hole of links I’ve grabbed on the topic.

Which reminds me of something I’ve been internally referring to as “the slow web,” the kind of stuff you find on the web that doesn’t exist in a chronological order (it doesn’t have to be “timeless” or anything, just not something that only makes sense in a timeline). In that way, it’s kind of the anti-blog, or the anti-feed (or the anti-flood). One of the defining factors of blogging or microblogging is that they happen in a chronological manner. You post with some frequency, and then others read your stuff in that order (or the reverse of that order). It means that everything has a kind of sticky nowness, you come to the blog every day to see the new stuff. In that way blogging is a lot less like a book and a lot more like a news program or a tv show or whatever. It’s mostly about now. And now is an OK time, but it’s not the only time. I’m kind of interested in writing things, or making things, that maybe you don’t read constantly. Maybe you find it and you read the whole thing and then you’re done and there’s no incentive to come back unless you want to read the whole thing again. Or maybe it’s something you come to and read a bunch of and then forget about and then one day remember for some reason you can’t quite put your finger on but you’re elated because you really enjoyed it the first time and so you start reading it again but oh boy it’s maybe kind of different this time because there’s new stuff in it. (A wiki is like that).

So anyway, a pinboard is kind of the slow web from a reader’s perspective. It’s fine to follow an RSS feed of it to keep up with what somebody else bookmarks, but there’s also this whole other mode of reading a given tag at random, and doing that doesn’t really depend on time, doesn’t depend on “keeping up on it” or anything like that.

So anyway, that’s what’s on my mind today. I don’t know what to make of it (figuratively or literally). Probably nothing for a while.