I don't use Python much. But: this is a good list of tools (notably pipx, which may come in very handy). And it's a similar approach I have to my own development environments: reasonable amounts of isolation, not just defaulting to Docker.
Notes from Jeremy Keith on starting out in front-end circa 2019. Really useful for [Longridge], because I never have a good answer to where to start any more, and lots of these resources look great.
‘Making guitar pedals?! Freaking mental!’ – Steve Bragg, Empress Effects, and the ZOIA | E&T MagazineGreat, technical article about building music hardware. Empress really aren't messing around: Blackfin chips, smart board design and circuit architecture, and TDD for embedded code all in the mix. It's great that ZOIA is such a success for them.
"The new thing won’t be better, you just aren’t aware of all of the ways it will be terrible yet."
I am at the point in my career where I nod along at _all_ of this, often with real experience. It maps neatly to my current experience of moving lots of things to simpler technologies (text files, flat HTML, and glue-of-your-choice).
Nice interview and profile; when I read it, I remembered how much I enjoyed _Grafts_.
Some properly gnarly games maths, laid out. I understood some of it? But always nice to see what goes into things, even when you don't enjoy them, especially at that technical-art conjunction.
(I do like how Dan Abramov writes about code).
An e-ink screen for a room
31 January 2019
I made a small display for my living room.
This project began when we installed a Hive thermostat at home. For various reasons, the thermostat ended up on the upstairs landing, and I thought it’d be nice to have a second display for it downstairs. I know I can look at the app on my phone, but I thought something more ambient might be nice. And, whilst I was at it, one feature I’d always wanted – the next trains at my nearest stations – and perhaps the outdoor temperature and weather as well.
This all coincided with Bryan Boyer writing up his Very Slow Movie Player project, which is a delight. (It shows a movie at a frame a minute, on a large e-ink screen).
I’ve been fascinated with e-ink for a long while. I’m well into the lifespan of my second Kindle, and it’s such a wonderfully un-technological piece of technology. It’s still, to my mind, the single best piece of hardware Amazon have made by a long, long way.
I wrote about the joy of e-ink when I was at Berg, in Asleep and Awake. As Bryan proved, it’s now fairly easy to both source e-inks screens and also to interface with them. The 2.7″ screen I used came ready-attached to a Raspberry Pi HAT, with libraries all written for it.
(As an aside: I’ve been tinkering with Raspberry Pis for a while, but this was the first time I’ve used the Zero form factor; the £10 Zero W, with built-in wireless and bluetooth, is such a lovely fit for this project. It does make the thought of doing lower-level embedded work seem a little foolish for simple IOT prototypes – lots of power and connectivity, and the ability to write high-level code is a delight.)
So: I had a screen, and a Pi. I started with the output: getting a PNG of mocked-up UI to display on the screen. This didn’t take too long, although I’ve had no joy getting partial updates to work – I’m using a fairly heavyweight full screen refresh each time the screen updates. Still, that’s an improvement I can come to later.
With the sample PNG on the screen, there were two remaining strands of work: dynamically generating images, and gathering data to feed them. Again, I worked on the former first, using Pillow. I’m not a great Python developer by any stretch, but a recent work project featuring a lot of it made me a lot more comfortable with hacking on the language, and Pillow’s a lovely tool for simple image compositing. Google’s Roboto font and Erik Flowers’ WeatherIcons do most of the legwork; the rest is simple compositing, step by step.
Having broken the task down, everything went almost entirely as planned. One by one, I replaced each section of the screen with live content. The only hiccups were the usual wrestling with cron jobs (when do these ever go smoothly?) and dealing with simultaneous writes to the JSON store. (It turned out lowdb wasn’t great for distributing across multiple files, and rather than rewrite everything to use SQLite, I just went with three separate JSON files. Easy fix). Nice to spend a few hours at the weekend motoring on some programming I’m entirely comfortable with: JSON, markup-scraping, server-side fettling and graphics processing.
I’m happy with the results. There’s a bit of a distracting blink when the display re-renders, but the lack of a glow makes it feel very different to a more obviously electronic device. It just sits, comfortable with itself, giving me a little bit of information. I was surprised how many people enjoyed it when I shared it on Instagram, so thought I’d write it up.
What’s next? I might add something else to that lower-right display; not sure what, yet. And, most importantly, I’m going to give it some kind of case – it’s a bit too ‘gadgety’ or ‘maker-y’ as it stands; it needs to be made more homely. Perhaps some wood. In the meantime, though, I’ve been living with it, and had no desire to repurpose it, or switch it off, which is usually the best sign.
Most notably: it continues to affirm my belief that e-ink is a most gentle and domestic technology. I can confirm that it’s now very easy to play with, if you’re so inclined; a Python library and bolting a £30 HAT onto a Pi was all this took to get live. I might do some more tinkering with this technology in due course.
Highly recommended by SimonW. Possibly something to prod.
Oskar Stålberg illustrates some of his work on Bad North. I love illustrations of software development through animation – captures the change-over-time aspect of code work.
"I mention Knuth because, of all the Old Masters of computer science, he is the one most interested in the relationship between computer programs and texts. Could we even suggest that a program is a text? It is, after all, a written expression of creativity. Certainly, when running, a computer game can be an artistic experience in the same way that a film, or a play can. But my concern here is not whether the program is art when it runs. I’m talking about whether its source code is a text. We could go down a bit of a rabbit-hole here about playful literary theories. Umberto Eco once reviewed a new Italian banknote as a work of art, describing it as a numbered, limited edition of engravings. But let’s concede that a functional document like a shopping list or a spreadsheet of student names is not a literary text. On the other hand, a recipe by a literary cook like Elizabeth David might be art, even though it also has function. Perhaps the relevant question is: can we experience a program as a text? Can we, in the fullest sense of the word, read it?
A cynical answer might be that if program source codes are texts, why can’t you buy them in a bookshop?" Graham Nelson on a potted history of Inform, and then its future. The second half may be less interesting to you, but the first half is a fantastic piece of writing on literate programming, source-code-as-art, and the nature of languages. I loved this.