Category: Software

I reread Robin Sloan’s post about a “home-cooked” app, and it continues to resonate; there’s something special about writing software for very small audiences. In that vein, here’s something that my partner and I have been using since last year:

We needed a solution for shared notes that works well across Android, iOS, and the (desktop) web… so I made one. We use it a lot, mostly for things like our grocery list and cooking notes. It’s simple, fast, and it works for us.

Technology-wise, it’s just a website that works well on desktop and mobile. The back-end is written in Rust, it uses HTMX for some dynamic updates, and the note contents get saved to a SQLite database (backed up to S3 with Litestream). The whole thing compiles down to a single-file executable that gets run on a cheap VPS.

Many corners were cut during the development of this project! Proper collaborative text editing is hard, and I took a quick-and-dirty approach. Eventually I’ll get it working better with Automerge or whatever, but for now I have something good enough for a user base of 2.

And now it’s really easy to do stuff with our shared notes:

That’s a cheap 7" e-ink display with a Raspberry Pi on the back, showing a customized view of our grocery list plus enough information to answer the question “do I need an umbrella today?”. It’s like a little household dashboard that we can take a quick look at as we head out the door. Eventually I need to make a frame for it and mount it on the wall, but it’s pretty handy as-is.

Why do all this?

Shared notes are a solved problem, I’m sure I could have found an existing service for this. But:

  • I like having a project to tinker on for someone I care for, in the same way that I like cooking for them
  • This is permanent in a way that cloud services are not. It will never change unless we want it to, and it will will work for decades without much effort. We might be using this in a retirement home one day
  • It’s trivial to tweak and extend software I wrote myself. I didn’t need to figure out an API to get the the e-ink display, I just built a new HTML view on top of existing data
  • Software designed for an audience of 2 is able to be much simpler than software that anticipates the needs of a large+diverse user base

Bonus: Burninator.exe

Now that I’ve shown you something useful, here’s some much sillier home-cooked software:

A friend asked:

What is a program that I can run in the background to raise the temperature of a laptop? If my laptop gets too cold the screen starts to flicker…

I wasn’t aware of any, so I wrote one that queries WMI for the current CPU temperature and then does busy work until the temperature is high enough. Is it dumb? Yes. Does it solve this one person’s very specific problem? Also yes!

It’s been a good summer so far. Some things I’ve been up to:


I got annoyed that I couldn’t find a decent GUI for systemd services, so I built one:

It was partially an excuse to experiment with ratatui for terminal UIs in Rust, and I think I like it quite a bit. ratatui gives you tools you need to do immediate-mode rendering efficiently, but the broad strokes of your application’s architecture are up to you.

Gardening + Patio

I spent more time than usual on our little outdoor space. Lots of flowers, a new planter, pressure washing, etc.

I’ve organized a fair number of get-togethers/dinners on the patio, it’s been really nice meeting new people and catching up with people who I haven’t seen since before the pandemic.

New ‘Puter

I finally took the plunge and bought a Framework Laptop:

Intel’s multicore performance has gotten a lot better in recent generations, so I figured I could replace my desktop for Rust work. So far, so good!

I like the hardware a lot. There were some teething pains getting Linux working properly, but that kinda comes with the territory.

I recently participated in the Handmade Network Visibility Jam and built a tool that I’d been wanting for my own use:

In a nutshell, Escape Artist shows ANSI escape sequences that are normally invisible. It’s kinda like View Source for the terminal; my hope is that it will be useful for anyone working on shells and terminal applications.

Tech Stack

Escape Artist is primarily written in Rust, using Axum to serve up a web UI using Tailwind+Preact. Events get streamed to the front-end over a websocket. I took great pains to keep the front-end simple; nearly all business logic lives in the Rust back-end, there is no front-end build step, and all dependencies are bundled with the application.

Escape Artist compiles down to a single-file 1.8MB executable, and nearly half of that is Tailwind and an embedded font.

Lessons Learned

Parsing escape sequences out of a stream of bytes is remarkably tricky. Thankfully the vte crate does most of the heavy lifting for us.

This minimal approach to web UI was generally pretty nice! I occasionally ran into a bit of trouble wrangling JS libraries that assume everyone is using NPM, React, and a bundler like webpack, but overall it wasn’t too bad.

I ended up needing to roll my own tooltip solution using Floating UI, and… wow. Their introductory tutorial is one of the best I’ve ever seen for a library in any language.

Why Nushell?

We can do better than POSIX

I work on a command-line shell called Nushell (Nu for short) with some internet friends, and I think it’s pretty cool. To convince you that it’s cool (or at least worth a try), here’s a whirlwind tour.

Basic Querying

Let’s start by taking a look around the filesystem. We’ll use ls to take a look at the files in /usr/bin:

Windows UI in 2022

Things are weird.

Like many other people, I unexpectedly found myself stuck at home without much to do in early 2020. To stay sane, I set about answering a question I’d had for a while: what’s the deal with native GUI frameworks on Windows these days?

It’s rarely obvious which of Microsoft’s several supported technologies is the best choice for a new project, and Windows doesn’t have the same culture of idiomatic+consistent native GUIs as macOS. After months of obsessive escapism focus I emerged with a decent understanding of the problem space; let’s start with an overview of the technologies in use today:


This is kind of a catch-all term for the old-school way to build a Windows application using arcane, less-than-ergonomic C APIs. This is unpleasant and your application will look ugly, but one big advantage is that the Win32 APIs will live forever and they underpin all the other UI frameworks.

It’s well worth your time to learn a bit of this (read Charles Petzold’s book ), but it’s rare to see people building pure-Win32 GUIs these days.


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