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From David Milch’s Disembodied Writing Process by Mason Currey:

You can’t think your way to right action; you can only act your way to right thinking.

From Were Your Parents Right About Anything? by Heather Havrilesky:

The trouble with parental advice is that it’s extremely difficult to select the good parts while discarding the bad parts. Sometimes when you really sit and analyze what your parents taught you, you discover that there aren’t that many bad parts. The things they said to you weren’t even the problem. It was their conflicted feelings, their shame, their anger at themselves, their habit of blaming external forces for their failures, their inability to show up and be present for your weird personality, that stood in the way of your bond with them, your self-acceptance, your well-being, and your ability to embrace your path forward in life.

From I Opened a Grocery Store by Alison Roman:

Aside from the creative outlet it gave me, cooking, being active in the kitchen, gave me an obvious place to channel my anxiety. It calmed my nervous system. Cooking, being active in the kitchen, also meant I was useful. And if I could be useful, I could be loved.

From Eigensolutions: Composability as the Antidote to Overfit by verou.me:

This works great with the kinds of transactional processes (marketplaces, social media, search engines, etc) most product literature centers around, but can fall apart when designing creative tools (developer tools, no-code tools, design tools, languages, APIs etc.), as there are fundamental differences[1] between the two:

• In transactional processes, users have clearly defined goals, and the task is highly specialized (e.g. “Go to work”, “Order takeout”, “Find accommodation for my upcoming trip”) and can often be modeled as a linear process.
• In creator tools, use cases vary wildly, goals are neither linear, nor clearly defined, and may even change throughout the session.

From Once Upon a Browser by meyerweb.com:

I eventually came to realize that the appeal [of generative art] was rooted in my love of the web, where we create content elements and visual styles and scripted behavior, and then we send our work into a medium that definitely has constraints, but something very much like the random component of generative art: viewport size, device capabilities, browser, and personal preference settings can combine in essentially infinite ways.  The user is the seed in the RNG of our work’s output.

From Overfitting and the Problem With Use Cases by Joe McLean:

It’s very common that your first design idea will be overfit. It’s useful to interrogate a concept and ask — is there a deeper, more fundamental need? Could we reduce this concept until that is the only part that remains? What other possibilities unlock with a simpler, more general tool?

Use cases should be applied after design is done — to check if the tools available can accomplish the job. As a starting point, they put you in a mindset to overfit. This is especially dangerous because users will often tell you they love it in concept testing. “Ah yes, here is my process, represented in pictures!” But it’s only when you actually try to use the tool — hold the thing in your hands — that there’s a hundred things you need it to do that it doesn’t. It’s not flexible — it’s a series of menus and disappointed feature requirements.

I believe it’s best to think of a use case as a test case to see if your basic tools are working. What’s missing from the toolbox? What are the limits of what’s available? What 4 use cases would open up with the addition of one more tool?

I believe that designing great creative software tools is not about designing cabinet assembly machines. It’s about giving users a high quality toolbox of screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches. It’s about seeing the shared needs across many use cases and designing the simplest possible set of devices that allow the user to accomplish their objectives.

From Field Notes on Science & Nature by Michael R. Canfield, Edward O. Wilson, George B. Schaller, Bernd Heinrich, Kenn Kaufman, Anna K. Beh...:

Such research consists of a repetitive recording of the same facts until one has a large enough sample to deduce patterns, derive conclusions, and even make predictions.

Poets of the mundane

Paul has always been my favorite Beatle.

I was in junior high school when I got hooked—during that time there’s a good chance that if you found me listening to music on my iPod nano, it was The Beatles.

Perhaps it was Paul’s youthfulness and humor that made him approachable to me at that age in a way that John wasn’t. Paul was someone you might have known in real life, but John and George seemed otherworldly.

That otherworldliness is a part of why John in particular is regarded as the driving creative genius of the group.

But this has never sat right with my love for Paul, so I was delighted to discover Ian Leslie’s 64 Reasons To Celebrate Paul McCartney which makes a very strong case for the boyish Beatle.

It’s a long list full of excellent reasons to rethink your choice of favorite Beatle. There was one aspect in particular that stood out to me.

For McCartney, the domestic isn’t opposed to the world of the imagination; it is a portal to it. He is a poet of the mundane; a writer who will start off writing about his dog, or fixing a hole, and see where it takes him.

I think this is the one that sums up the whole thing, and is what a large part of makes Paul appealing. His work offers me reassurance that inspiration can and does come from the most unassuming of places.

The need to find or manufacture deeper meaning in our work by tracing its inspirations can be paralyzing—Paul is a good reminder for me to not ignore ideas sparked from humble circumstances.

It’s clear that being a “poet of the mundane” extends beyond creative work and into the way we choose to live our lives:

His unashamed “normality” was an act of inverted rebellion, as transgressive, in its way, as Lennon and Yoko posing naked. But neither fans nor critics saw it that way, and to this day it is Lennon who best fits our Romantic idea of a great man; tortured, difficult and deep. Long before it became commonplace for male public figures to hymn the joys of parenting, Paul McCartney was showing us a different way to be a man, and we have never quite forgiven him for it.

This echoes the timeless advice from Stephen King: “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Apps and the Age of AI

For how much software has evolved and matured I find it strange how many tasks remain unaddressed by niche, purpose-built software. I’m always excited to see how novel ideas can come about from focusing in on a narrow domain.

Ink and Switch’s latest research prototype Embark focuses on one specific task: making travel plans.

Embark uses a humble text-based document as its interface, which it then enriches with additional data and views as needed. There is something thrilling to me in the notion that, of all the options explored, plain text won (and often wins) the day.

As a designer I find it both deeply distressing and blissfully serene that improvements upon plain text as way of viewing, creating, and manipulating data are so rare.

Perhaps more importantly than the medium, Embark brings the features of multiple apps into a single workspace:

Although apps give us access to all kinds of information, they provide only limited mechanisms for bringing it together in useful ways. Whenever a complex task requires multiple apps, we are forced to juggle information across apps, resulting in tedious and error-prone coordination work.

Embark: Dynamic documents for making plans

Ink and Switch’s research identified 3 core problems with the typical model where tasks are completed using a series of individual apps:

  1. Context is not shared across apps
  2. Views are siloed
  3. Apps produce ephemeral output

One of the most exciting aspects of AI for me is its potential to address these challenges. AI actors operating on our behalf, paired with the right platform primitives and protocols, have the potential to form a new model of computing which reduced the coordination cost of managing many apps and interfaces.

I feel optimistic about a future with technology shaped by catalysts like LLMs, federated social protocols, and now Embark. Each offer new avenues for addressing the challenges with a computing model centered around siloed apps.

If the past decade of human computer interaction has been centered around apps, perhaps the next decade will knock those walls down and put users back in control of their data and the ways it is manipulated.

From Are AI Language Models in Hell? by Robin Sloan:

Of course, an X is an X, in some respects. But when you, as a human, read text, you receive a dose of extra information — always! The monospaced grid of code tells you something (along with the syntax highlighting, of course). The “nothing to see here” of a neo-grotesque font tells you something. The wash of a web page’s muted background color tells you something.

From Lurking by Joanne McNeil:

The internet has groomed me to expect that all of culture is indexable and classifiable. In the absence of metadata, I feel a deeper loss and disconnect.

Instead the media talked about the internet in broad generalities is the internet good, or is the internet bad? Is the internet making us smart, or is it making us stupid? The supposed answer to any user's problem was less internet rather than a better internet. Or, as the techno-optimists would have it, the answer was more internet, rather than purposeful use of the internet.

From Burn Baby Burnout by Amyhupe.co.uk:

I see an overemphasis on artefacts and deliverables: things you can point at, at the expense of what they really are: large scale organisational change programmes.

From Dynamic Documents for Making Plans by inkandswitch.com:

Why is it so difficult to plan a trip using our digital devices? When making a plan of any kind, we need to pull together information from different sources, and then synthesize the information to make decisions. Although apps give us access to all kinds of information, they provide only limited mechanisms for bringing it together in useful ways. Whenever a complex task requires multiple apps, we are forced to juggle information across apps, resulting in tedious and error-prone coordination work.

From Designing for Wide Walls by Mitchel Resnick:

For a technology to be effective, he said, it should provide easy ways for novices to get started (low floor) but also ways for them to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time (high ceiling). With his Logo programming language, for example, kids could start by drawing simple squares and triangles, but gradually create more complex geometric patterns over time.

But the most important lesson that I learned from Seymour isn’t captured in the low-floor/high-ceiling metaphor. We need to add an extra dimension: wide walls. It’s not enough to provide a single path from low floor to high ceiling; we need to provide wide walls so that kids can explore multiple pathways from floor to ceiling.

From Building a Design System Workbench by Christoph Labacher:

When we started looking for tools to help us build a design system from scratch, we discovered that there are many tools that help you with the outcome, but they care little about the process. When we say outcome, what we mean is “We want a documentation website for our design system, and it needs to be nice and shiny!”. That was certainly true, but it also wasn’t our primary concern at that moment. Instead what we thought was “We need to build a design system, and we’re creating it from scratch!”. It felt like people were offering us display cabinets when we were looking for a sturdy workbench.

From Bless the Toolmakers by Robin:

So I wish more people were making tools for a specific creative purpose rather than for general consumer adoption. I wish more people were making tools that very intentionally do not scale—tools with users by the dozen. Tools you experience not through a web signup form, but through pathbreaking creative work.

I guess I want fewer aspirational Apples and more Pixar wannabes.

From 64 Reasons to Celebrate Paul McCartney by Ian Leslie:

Sometimes the person you resent for being bossy is the person you need to do your best work.

For McCartney, the domestic isn’t opposed to the world of the imagination; it is a portal to it. He is a poet of the mundane; a writer who will start off writing about his dog, or fixing a hole, and see where it takes him.

His unashamed “normality” was an act of inverted rebellion, as transgressive, in its way, as Lennon and Yoko posing naked. But neither fans nor critics saw it that way, and to this day it is Lennon who best fits our Romantic idea of a great man; tortured, difficult and deep. Long before it became commonplace for male public figures to hymn the joys of parenting, Paul McCartney was showing us a different way to be a man, and we have never quite forgiven him for it.

From How Might We Help Designers Understand Systems? by sciencedirect.com:

Working with systems requires designers to consider context, connections, and consequences; parts and wholes; stocks and flows of material, energy, and information; transformations and feedback; the sources of inputs and the disposition of outputs; larger and smaller scales; longer and shorter periods; which groups and actions are empowered or inhibited; and other dimensions of systems.

In many practices, designers face a shift from designing discrete artifacts to creating conditions in which dynamic systems can thrive and evolve. Designers must embrace working with systems of systems (information-product-service ecologies, other socio-technical systems, and nature itself). They must also embrace designing conditions for others to design; the design of design (meta-design, developing platforms on which others build).

Wherever I can I prefer to work in the browser vs. tools like Figma. As the web platform grows (we seem to be in a sort of golden age at the moment) it becomes easier and easier to do my job with only the raw materials of the web.

Recently I’ve been working on a project at the day job that requires the use of something akin to layout grids in Figma. I was curious how difficult it would be to recreate this on the web.

It took longer than I’d like to admit to figure out the math, but with a single repeating-linear-gradient we can overlay a representation of our grid onto the page. I whipped up a class for this with support for specifying your own number of columns and gutter width.

In the spirit of blogging the things I want to remember:

.grid-overlay {
  --n: var(--columns, 12);
  --g: var(--gap, 16px);
  --c: var(--overlay-color, rgb(255 0 0 / 0.08));
  --column-width: calc(((100% + var(--g)) / var(--n)) - var(--g));

  position: relative;

  &:before {
    content: '';
    position: absolute;
    inset: 0;
    z-index: 1;
    pointer-events: none;
    background: repeating-linear-gradient(
      to right,
      var(--c),
      var(--c) var(--column-width),
      transparent var(--column-width),
      transparent calc(var(--column-width) + var(--g))
    );
  }
}

Slap that class onto your grid container and presto, you’ve got some rails in place to keep everything lined up nice and neat.

A screenshot of a webpage showing a 12 column grid.

repeating-linear-gradient invokes strange powers

Once again I’m left marvelling at the humble power of CSS, and feeling grateful that we live during times when such an expressive yet simple visual language is spoken so ubiquitously.

Check out the demo on Codepen.

Conjurings of the harvest moon

Autumn is my favorite time of the year. The trees outside my apartment here in Oak Park are shining gold, and the air is starting to feel crisp and cold. Sweater weather, if you will.

A towering castle set against a blue sky and surrounded by trees with golden leaves.

Hashimoto Okiie, Autumn at Himeji Castle, 1949

Besides the weather and foliage, the best part of the season may just be its rituals. One of my favorites is an annual rewatching of Over the Garden Wall, which is the coziest, most endearing television series I’ve ever seen.

If the show is to teach us anything, it’s that things are not always what they seem.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to this wonderful exploration of vintage postcards that share a vibe with OtGW from the blog Weird Christmas (which is written by, get this, Craig Kringle). The entire site is dedicated to vintage Victorian Christmas cards, which Craig collects and shares online.

A vintage postcard showing figures with pumpkins instead of heads sitting around in a field. A sign in the center of the frame reads "Heaven and how to get there".

Weird Christmas

A few of the show’s scenes appear to take almost direct inspiration from some of the postcards in Craig’s collection. There is truly nothing new under the sun.


I recently discovered that a new animated series on HBO Max, Scavenger’s Reign, is based upon an animated short which appeared online 4 years ago by Joe Bennett and Charles Huettner.

The short caught my attention when it originally released for being a beautiful and wholly original bit of science fiction. Sometimes the internet, like the world, is full of serendipity, and you might rediscover something familiar just like you might stumble into an old friend at a crowded place.

The first six episodes have already premiered, and I’m hooked already. The style is something like a cross between Fantastic Planet, Sable, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

A still image from the HBO Max series Scavenger's Reign depicting a vibrant and verdant alien planet with a metallic robot standing in the center of the frame.

I am such a sucker for any media that takes world building seriously, and the world of Scavenger’s Reign is overflowing with details—flora, fauna, and environments as alien as you’ve ever seen. The ecology of Vesta Minor, the planet on which the show takes place, is just as much a character as the humans stranded there.


Since there seems to be an animation theme going here, I’ll briefly mention how excited I am for the upcoming animated Scott Pilgrim series on Netflix: Scott Pilgrim Takes Off. I have a love for both the graphic novels and the 2010 film, whose cast will be returning to voice the characters in the new series.


Robin Sloan recommended the book Ghosts and Demons of India in his latest newsletter, and I picked up a copy of my own just in time for Halloween.

I love books that can be imbibed in small sips like a hot cup of coffee. Ghosts reads like an encyclopedia of creatures and spirits from the Indian subcontinent, and each entry conjures up the most vivid images. I have no idea the pantheon of ghost stories in India was so vast!


Allow me to recommend one of my favorite blogs of late, which excites me every time it appears in my RSS reader. It is the wonderful Going Medieval by Dr. Eleanor Janega, who specializes in “late medieval sexuality, apocalyptic thought, propaganda, and the urban experience in general.” How cool is that??

Dr. Janega uses their expertise to make comparisons and critiques between modern internet culture and that of medieval societies. One of their latest posts was sparked by the recent national test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) on October 4 in the United States, which caused everyone’s smartphones to scream in unison. If you’re like me, you found it surprising and terrifying despite the numerous warnings online in the weeks leading up to the test.

Some folks found it more than surprising, though, and used it as the basis for conspiracy theories related to 5G, vaccines, viruses, and the like.

We often like to think of medieval European societies as unenlightened, unintelligent, and superstitious, but Dr. Janega reminds us that we’re not much better ourselves. Many bogus explanations were offered for the Black Death, and the parallels with how people respond to public health emergencies today are eery.

Definitely go read the whole piece, it’s full of gems like this:

I have repeatedly heard people now refer to the fact that “medieval streets were full of shit” to explain the spread of the Black Death. This is interesting because it is 1) not true – most medieval cities tightly regulated the disposal of human waste very strenuously and 2) would be irrelevant anyway even if it were true (it’s not) because that’s not how yersinia pestis travels.

On sickness and conspiracy

While I was writing this up, Dr. Janega posted another banger just in time for Halloween: You are not, in fact, the granddaughter of the witches they couldn’t burn.


Robin Rendle recently shared how he views the browser as a printing press:

So I’ve never seen myself as a designer or engineer or writer, but as a third thing. It’s sort of pompous and silly to call myself this word though, so I avoid it, but deep down it’s what I’m always thinking whenever someone asks what I do. But here, in this secret society of the newsletter, I will admit to you:

  1. I’ve always seen the browser as a printing press.
  2. Because of that, I’ve always seen myself as a publisher first and then everything else second.

Robin Rendle, The Browser is a Printing Press

I couldn’t agree more. The power of the browser is not that it gave us the ability to write or create art or build programs, but that it allowed anyone to publish those things to the entire world.

The application of the web—design, engineering, writing—are all interests of mine, but for me they’re inevitably second to the printing press itself.


Speaking of Robin, be sure to check out his latest newsletter, The Cascade which focuses on the past, present, and future of CSS. Robin has been exploring new color features in CSS in the latest issues and it’s been a delight to follow along with.


In the spirit of publishing, I’ve been working on a little side project that is an ode to the written word.

While I appreciate the convenience of ebooks and audio books, I have always preferred to own and read physical copies. As a result, I’ve accumulated quite a few books that are becoming increasingly difficult to store and move around. I know at some point I’ll need to slim down my collection, but I wanted to preserve it in its current form.

To that end, I decided the place to start would be creating a database of all the books in my physical collection. I spent a few weeks inputting titles, authors, dates, ISBN numbers, page counts, and more metadata about the titles on my shelves. I still have a few boxes of books to go through and log, but most of my collection is now captured digitally.

I decided to use Airtable for this job, partly because it has such an easy to use API. I wanted to display my collection in a way that was more pleasant to browse than a spreadsheet, so I built my own little frontend for the database.

It’s still very much a WIP, and not as performant as I’d like it to be just yet, but you can take a peek at books.chasem.co

A screenshot of a website displaying Chase McCoy's collection of physical books in a grid layout.

A website can be a bookshelf

Now I feel much more comfortable donating some of my books knowing that I’ll always be able to look back over my collection.


I hope this season find you well. With reverence to the Great Pumpkin,

Chase

From You Can't Fake the Core by Ava:

Sometimes what we want is impossible. The life you want to live is not the life that wants to live in you. And to be become who you actually are, to honor your calling, your feelings, your joy, requires you choosing the life that wants you back.

From Glimpsing God by Nadia:

I worry that being immersed in a world of hungry, gaping maws, grasping for ideas – any idea – to gobble up; to compulsively transact in ideas for status, money, and friendship; pulls me further away from the divine somehow. Chasing ideas can be just as materialistic as chasing money or power.

In recent years, I've begun to suspect that a life consumed by ideas will not bring me closer to the divine. The freedom I seek, it seems, doesn't lie in my laying about, steeped in my own brain, but rather in the stillness I've found in the more mundane moments of my life. In these moments, there is no euphoria, nor even any active reflection on gratitude or happiness. Rather, it's the sense of just being – the absence of introspection – that brings me peace.

From Essay: TikTok's Eurocore Summer by Kyle Chayka:

The conversation you are participating in, even the primary experience that you are having, exists there, online. You’re not eating; you’re having Girl Dinner. You’re not cleaning your kitchen; you are taverncore. Your family isn’t rich; you’re just a coastal grandmother. The mood makes real life more interesting, or at least interweaves it more with life online, where feedback is instantaneous and it’s easier to keep score.

From my website by robinrendle.com:

But I am a big believer that a blog should be embarrassing! That’s like half the point of a blog, to be wrong about things ruthlessly, over and over again, to stumble in front of a crowd of strangers and hope that they at least smile at your attempt.

From The Making of Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner:

Here I am, as free as it's possible for anyone to be free to travel, work, fall in love – and I'm holding back, like I'm waiting for my life to start. This is my life. It's not a preparation for anything -it's the thing itself. I have got to remember that.

Everyone has their own particular form of self-destruction. Mine, I'm starting to think, is standing outside myself, watching myself live my life, turning my face so as to give the cameras a better angle, and thus missing the whole thing.

From On Successor States and Websites by Romulus Augustulus:

Over at twitter this dance was happening but with weirdo right wingers. They were always mad because no one likes them because they are hateful, stupid, and have absolutely no rizz. Because they only know other weirdo right wingers IRL, however, they were convinced that there was some sort of nefarious plot to dunk on them online and they wanted to know when Twitter would acknowledge them, the biggest victims known to man. At the head of this was, of course, your man there Elon who is mad that he isn’t funny. He became convinced that there was an army of bots or something making fun of him and he demanded to know why twitter was letting people be mean to him. “You say that you want weirdo right wingers to be on this site and yet! You allow people to be very mildly mean to them!!! Even when they are the richest man on the planet! So much for free speech, etc.” Anyway, he accidentally got forced to buy twitter for too much money because he is quite stupid, and now here we are.

In a week that has contained the revelation that aliens are real and have visited our planet, the most exciting news may actually that 3 researchers in Seoul, South Korea claimed to have synthesized a new material that is a superconductor at room temperature and ambient atmospheric pressure.

I’ll leave it to others to discuss the implications of this, but if true it could turn out to be the greatest physics discovery of my lifetime.

It could also, of course, turn out to be false, and plenty of doubts are already being cast about the results and the researchers. But at this moment there are people all around the globe trying to replicate the findings, and we may start hearing about the results in a matter of hours. Some of them are even live-tweeting the effort. There’s an exciting energy of discovery and optimism stemming from this finding.

Just another reminder that every day is science fiction.

From The Lost Thread by Robin Sloan:

An indus­tri­alist might soon purchase Twitter, Inc. His substan­tial success launching reusable space­craft does nothing to prepare him for the challenge of building social spaces. The latter calls on every liberal art at once, while the former is just rocket science.

From I Miss the Internet. by Joan Westenberg:

And that brings me to the heart of it. I miss the internet. But to a degree, I also miss the person I was back when I had it; the person who had more energy and more fucks to give, who wasn’t quite so jaded by it all.

I miss the wide-eyed curiosity, the unbridled excitement, and the audacious hope we brought to our early digital voyages.