Category: Web

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!

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.

Recently on

Hot new web 1.0 features

I find working on my personal website to be soothing. It’s one of those never-ending projects in a good way, and I work on it in small bursts of energy whenever I have the time and inspiration. I’ve added a handful of new features in recent months and, uh, I’m sorry.

Some of these features are an attempt to revisit the glory that was the Geocities-era web; you might have noticed the glittery cursor trail (based on the excellent cursor-effects), or the animated snowy background that only shows up in December.

I’ve added custom emoji that I can easily use throughout the website (with Hugo shortcodes), here’s a small sample:

I use a lot of custom emoji on Slack and Discord; adding them to my website was the logical next step. I’ve also been toying with the idea of letting readers emoji-react to my blog posts but haven’t quite come up with a design I’m happy with. Speaking of emoji…

Whoa, what’s this?
I also added these, uh, Socratic dialogue bubbles between me and arbitrary emoji heads. These are heavily inspired by “Cool Bear” but with more characters because why not?
Got it. I’m sure everyone will love this and nobody will find it annoying.

These features are pretty dumb and they’d never make it past design review in the real world. In a way, that’s the point. Let’s make websites fun again.

Future Imperfect 2.0

A near-complete website rewrite

I spent a few weeks in August rewriting this website, and as promised here are the deets. The source code is available here under the MIT license.


When I initially put this website together in January 2018, I used Julio Pescador’s Hugo port of the Future Imperfect theme. I’d heard good things about Hugo, I wanted to write blog posts in Markdown, and it was a good-looking theme that required minimal additional setup. It served me well for over a year, but a few things kept bothering me:

  1. The styling was very difficult to modify – it was nearly 3000 lines of CSS in a single file, with many duplicated colours and styles.
  2. The theme relied on a lot of JavaScript libraries: jQuery, highlight.js, Fancybox, Skel
    1. My simple static website was serving up hundreds of kilobytes of largely unnecessary scripts. As someone who grew up using a dialup modem, this offended me.

My goal was to rewrite the Hugo theme for extensibility and performance, and I figured it would take maybe a week. Of course, it took about 3 times that.

UI components: Angular vs React

Please don't reinvent JavaScript in your web framework

I’ve been building web UIs in Angular and React for the last few years, and I’ve started to greatly prefer React. Extracting and using UI components is just easier and, for lack of a better word, more JavaScripty.

Extracting components in React

Say I notice that I’m creating multiple <span> elements with the same class and icon:

function Main() {
  return (
      <span class="alert-tag"><i class="fa alert"></i>foo</span>
      <span class="alert-tag"><i class="fa alert"></i>bar</span>
      <span class="alert-tag"><i class="fa alert"></i>baz</span>

It’s trivial to refactor this repeated element into its own <Alert> component function within the same file:

function Main() {
  return (

function Alert({ children }) {
  return (<span class="alert-tag"><i class="fa alert"></i>{children}</span>);

Super easy, uses JavaScript’s native language constructs, and I was able to do it all within the same file (but I can easily move Alert() elsewhere for wider re-use if needed). It’s just like extracting a function in a “regular” programming language, it’s something you do without even thinking about it.


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