Yes, I am constantly changing the body font

As I post this on September 27, 2023, the body font for my blog here is the Google font Zilla Slab. It may change soon. It will probably change soon. I can never find one I quite like. I am going through my Serif Phase now, though, so whatever comes next will likely be a serif font.

And yes, I know technically these are typefaces, and it’s only the specific variants that are called fonts, but that battle has long been lost, typography nerds. Sorry!

One day I may even be bold enough to tinker with the site again. Until then, I have billions more fonts to go through.

For when it gets changed, this is what Zilla Slab looks like:

WordPress 6.3: Stepping backward

UPDATE, September 30, 2023: New deficiencies/regressions are being added to a list at the bottom of the post as I encounter them.

I try to avoid spending too much time complaining. Who wants to read some random dude’s complaints, after all? I mean, if they’re clever enough, sure. But this is not particularly clever, so I’ll be brief1In retrospect, this was a massive lie. Apologies for massively lying to you!.

WordPress 6.3 brought a few tweaks to the UI of the editor/block editor, resulting in inconsistency, adding extra steps to do the same tasks as before, and generally made the experience of doing stuff other than just basic text entry more cumbersome, with no discernible benefits that I can see as a trade-off.

There has been a lot of hate for the block editor, and rightly so2Not even a humble opinion, no sir.. It made it easy to drop in or move around blocks of “content”, but made it harder to actually just write, like in the olden days when blogs were all the rage.

I flirted with the classic editor plugin (5+ million installs) and have the classic editor block I can always use in a pinch, but my preference is to use software as intended, not install a bunch of hacks or workarounds to bend it to my will. The assumption is that the software will work the way I expect it to (mostly), and stay out of the way.

WordPress 6.3 does not stay out of the way. It blocks (ho ho) your way. It is anti-way.

None of what I’m about to detail is going to cause meteors to fall out of the sky or give someone a bad rash. These things don’t make WordPress unusable. But they make it clunkier, they add friction where there was no friction before, and they speak to a trend in design that suggests things may get worse still.

The three issues covered here:

  • Preview is now hidden behind a terrible, tiny, and meaningless icon.
  • If you want a caption on an image, you now have to specifically toggle captions on.
  • Setting a link to open in a new tab is now a multi-step, cumbersome process.
NOTE: I have added a pretty blue border around a lot of the shots below to make them stand out better. They are not this pretty in real life.

In order:

Preview’s new icon

Preview used to be a button that looked like this:

It is now this icon instead:

I believe it’s supposed to be an icon representing a laptop. Or maybe it’s an old-fashioned hand iron. Who knows? And if it’s a laptop, what does that have to do with Preview, anyway? And why is Preview now an icon, but Save draft and Publish aren’t? It’s not like there isn’t enough space. It’s inconsistent, vague and looks amateurish. And ugly.

Caption an image

Back in the olden times of WordPress pre version 6.3, you would add a caption to a photo by simply typing it into the caption space below the image. If you left the caption space blank, the space would not render. Simple!

Now when you want to caption an image, you must specifically choose the option from the toolbar while the image is highlighted, like so:

This puts the caption area below the image:

In some crazy parallel universe where everything is opposite, this makes sense. Here, it just adds busywork to a task that literally had no steps to it, you just started typing!

Making a link open in a new tab

In the previous version of WordPress, if you wanted to make a link open in a new tab, it was a checkbox item right there below the URL, like so:

Now, when you go to add a link, you get this (in the example below I have highlighted the word snoggle for the link):

You get a blank text box, and nothing else. So let’s type something in there:

Now we have a link, Hooray!

But how do we have the link open in a new tab?

Well, you click on the link (you naughty person) and get this:

The two icons above are, respectively, Edit and Unlink. So you click Edit and you get this:

Then you click on > Advanced and get this:

That’s right, the Advanced menu gives you one option: Open in new tab.

I don’t have the proper vocabulary to express how cosmically dumb this is. If there was a universe-wide contest for really, really bad UI, this would finish in the top three.

Now, go back and add up the number of images I’ve used to illustrate the new way of opening a link in a new tab vs. the old way. Explain this madness. You can’t. There is no explanation. Perhaps it’s meant as a joke, a cruel joke on us pathetic humans.

Theses are only three obnoxious things I’ve found in WordPress 6.3 so far. There may be more. And I haven’t even listed the remaining issues with the block editor (or other parts of the UI). But I have written enough on this, and now it is time for chocolate.


Additional 6.3 regressions

  • Previously when using the Preformatted block, if you copied the text from a Preformatted block, then pasted it elsewhere, it would remember the formatting (bold, etc.). It now strips this formatting.

This site has reached new heights! (of double digits)

I got my monthly Jetpack report, dig it1Do cool kids say “dig” now? I want to be hip again. I want to be lit, or a banger, or something.:

That number of visitors translates to about 12 per day! A dozen people! That is double digits. Double digits is only one away from triple digits, and from there the sky’s the limit.

I want to thank the following for making this success possible:

  • Birds
  • Jogging (?)
  • Lists
  • Doodlings
  • That writing prompt I did about a barista going back in time to kill Hitler

Vacantly staring (bonus: UI discussion and Mastodon clients)

For the past week or so, my brain has just not been cooperating with this blog. Giving myself permission to write about anything I want here was liberating, but even that freedom hasn’t been enough the past few days. I stare at the blinking cursor, and then I feel my mind drifting off, not to some great blog topic, but just weird little mundane things and thoughts. Nothing that I’d want to share in this space.

I do have a backup–a collection of blog ideas saved in Obsidian. But a lot of the topics I’ve jotted down no longer appeal. A lot of them are Apple kvetching, and I exceeded my quota on that at least 50 years ago.

So I end up doing these meta posts.

Oh, I just thought of a topic: Mastodon clients!

Mastodon is the only social media I use semi-regularly right now and I like it because:

  • No ads
  • No “reels” or other unavoidable short form videos
  • No algorithm–I only see the people/orgs I choose to follow
  • Not overwhelming. I like that I can easily keep up with what I’m following. It feels cozy and approachable.

I also don’t visit Mastodon on mobile. It’s strictly on my Mac or PC. On the Mac, I use the Mona app, which is a one-time purchase (hooray) and works well. On Windows, I use an alternate web version currently in alpha called Elk. It improves on the web interface and is pretty good, with only a few minor shortcomings. Still, I’d rather use a dedicated client, but all the Windows clients seem to have some flaw, the most common of which is they are ugly as butt. Windows apps don’t have to look ugly, but so many do. Every Mastodon client I’ve tried has been butt ugly. So I use Elk.

I don’t know why, exactly, the odds of a Mac app looking better than a Windows app is so high, but I suspect that it has something to do with the Mac GUI always being “good” and remaining fairly consistent over the years, with few dramatic changes. There’s a polished kind of consistency.

With Windows, well, just look at the GUI for different flavours:

  • Windows 1.0. I mean, yikes. But it was also 1985.
  • Windows 3.0. Pretty slick for the time, but crude by today’s standards.
  • Windows 95. Pretty decent, really.
  • Windows XP. Changed pretty much all UI elements in a way some liked, but others didn’t, feeling it was too “cartoony.”
  • Vista. Ignoring the initial quality of the OS, it again completely revamped the look, giving everything a pseudo-3D effect and having a glossy, reflective sheen to it.
  • Windows 8. Another complete change, flattening everything and subbing in garish colours and simplified icons.
  • Windows 10. A hybrid of 7 and 8 that reverses some of 8’s design.
  • Windows 11. A refinement of 10 that again changes the look of many elements, though perhaps not as dramatically as before.

Basically, if everyone followed the design language of Windows 11, apps would look pretty good. But a lot of apps seem to be weird hybrids of older versions of the OS and that’s when you get butts meeting the ugly.

Oh well. In the end, we’re seeing fewer native apps on both Windows and Mac as more devs use tools like Electron to make apps that look and feel the same (and don’t feel particularly native) on all platforms. I guess that’s the future.

Exciting site update?

WordPress 6.3 adds footnotes and the ability to style captions. Let’s see how they work!

Here is a sentence that ends in as footnote1. And here’s another using the Modern Footnotes plugin1I prefer footnotes that are inline that you can click, read, then dismiss, as they don’t interrupt the flow (man).

And now a photo with a styled caption:

This is the worst shot of a pigeon I’ve ever taken. I mean, the most artsy.

Aw, it appears I can’t do the one thing I actually wanted–change the size of the caption text. Boo.

In conclusion: I’ll probably never use these features, but someone will and it’s good they are here now, for those people.

  1. These appear to be traditional footnote types that only appear at the bottom of a post. I prefer the inline notes. ↩︎

Update on site update: Breaking all the things

Yesterday I started tweaking and experimenting with menus on the blog again and along the way, something went weirdly and spectacularly wrong. For a time, the site looked like this:

Would you care for links to every page from the last 18 years? At the top of the site? Good news!

Some of the pages linked in the header, like Short story names, were not even set to be publicly viewable, but somehow ended up displaying, anyway.

I did a restore via Dreamhost, which was imprecise (you don’t pick a specific restore point, just a vague timeframe), but worked, save for three images I had to manually recover. Once I repaired the damage, I went back to looking at kittens on the internet and pondered what to do going forward.

My site is actually quite old for a blog. I started it 18 (!) years ago, in February 2005. Blogs were kind of a big deal back then. Through many themes and redesigns, the blog has mustered on, but along the way it has accumulated piles of cruft, weird bits of code and parts of it feel like they will collapse if you touch them even ever-so-gently.

Yesterday’s menu fiasco has cooled me on mucking with the design for now, but it has got me thinking about what to do moving forward. I am undecided, but can rule out a few things:

  • Going back to coding HTML and CSS by hand, like it’s 1999
  • Leaving the site as-is indefinitely
  • Giving up, curling into a fetal position, and lapsing into a permanent fugue state about “the good old days”

Hopefully the next update about this blog will read less like an autopsy report.

Do not be alarmed (at my site)

I have started experimenting with bringing some menus back to my blog, so my photo galleries and other things are visible again. I’ve also slapped in a smaller temporary site logo. All of this may change, but for now, enjoy three sets of photos I took at Reifel, plus a direct link once again to Angry Carrot vs. Quirky Bastards.

UPDATE, a short time later: I’ve already moved the menus from the top to an item in the right sidebar and ditched the temporary site logo. Who knows what I’ll do next!

Engagement is down. Solution: FREE BEER!

By which I mean this image:

Bonus points if you recognize what cartoon this is from

Very slightly more seriously, Jetpack offered me these stats for the past month:

320 visitors

Sure, it may not seem like a lot, but it’s 100% organic! Just like the ingredients in the imaginary beer I’m offering.

Jetpack shows I’ve barely hit double digits this week, though:

That’s actually better than what the site has done historically, where it’s usually been in the single digits. The only thing I can think is a couple of LLMs are now scraping the site and hoping I don’t sue them like Twitter did.

If none of this makes sense in the future, welcome to the world of 2023.

Serif vs. Sans serif: Fight!

UPDATE: I have turned radical and am now using the serif typeface Bitter for headings. Anarchy!

I’ve been thinking about my blog redesign, as I do periodically, and have read several articles arguing in favour of using serif fonts for body text on websites. The old belief was that text on screen evolved to be mainly sans serif because low resolution screens made serifs harder to read, as they couldn’t be rendered well. Now with fancy™ screen technology and higher resolutions, that’s not a problem, so it’s time to return to serifs for body text, following the lead of virtually all novels and most books in general.

And yet I cannot find a serif I like. They all look too thin or too fat, or too fancy. Part of it is laziness, because the theme I use, the excellent GeneratePress, offers a list of dozens of Google fonts, but it isn’t trivially easy to deviate from the list. And I am lazy, so trivially easy is important. But I will keep poking at it.

For now, I am using Heebo for body text again, because it’s a clean-looking sans serif font, plus the name is adorable.

Also, I’ve tried going through some “best fonts” lists and as you might imagine, a lot of them are SEO-driven junk. But there’s a few out there! I will expand on this post later.

(And yes, I know the difference between a typeface and font, but that battle is long since lost for the pedants.)

My apologies to the internet

Earlier this year, I gave myself permission to post whatever I wanted to this blog–no more filters, no more forbidden topics. If I wanted to say it, I’d say it.

I’ve noticed lately that a lot of what I’ve been writing seems kind of cranky, and I don’t want to come across as a cranky person. I have had a terrible flu bug recently, and am still getting past the last bits of it and this has certainly soured my overall mood, but I just seem to be taking on lots of negative stuff–mostly on the web–then spewing bile here because of it. Some of the targets are pretty easy, admittedly. And I really believe grocery stores are gouging customers and that makes me angry, because food isn’t optional, and it rankles me that these people will get away with it because our federal government is ultimately too spineless to do anything about it.

But see, there I go again! Cranky! Angry!

I will still feel the way I feel, but there’s no need to project it to the Large Language Models scraping this site to help some future 14-yewar-old write their book report.

This is my way of saying I am going to try to focus on more creative, whimsical and/or entertaining stuff to post. And kittens, of course.

But first, a nice shot I took today of Burnaby Lake (it’s there under all the lily pads):

Redesign hell ~or~ How not to change your blog after 18 years

I started this blog in February 2005, which means it’s 18 years old. In Canada, that means my blog can drive, vote in federal elections and join the army. It has to wait a bit longer before it can gamble.

But I don’t have to wait, and gamble I did!

Since WordPress has no easy way to work in a staged environment, when you want to make changes, you either have to go through the rigmarole of setting up a local server, or just make changes on your live site and hope for the best.

Which is what I’ve been doing the last few days.

What I have learned:

  • After 18 years, my site has accumulated a lot of legacy cruft
  • This cruft can do interesting and/or alarming things when you poke at it
  • Different parts connect in unexpected ways. Imagine if your elbows connected to your knees, it’s kind of like that.
  • Things that should work logically will often defy logic
  • Sometimes it turns out to be user error
  • More than a few times, really
  • But not always!
  • Planning ahead is a good thing to do
  • I should have planned ahead, which I did not do
  • But even just starting on this journey, I have cleaned up a lot of that cruft:
    • Old, inactive widgets have been purged
    • Outdated links and thingies have been removed
    • Legacy stuff has been converted over to blocks where possible
    • I’ve backed up all the weird CSS changes that are in Simple CSS
    • I’ve documented every weird thing I’m likely to forget
  • I’ve experimented with colours, but right now it’s just a sedate green/grey combo
  • I will actually need to figure out what I want to show up front and what will be tucked away

Currently, the site looks a lot more green. I added some nice rounded corners on the individual posts because round corners are the new hot thing. But it’s otherwise pretty stripped down and ready for more serious remodelling. This stuff takes a lot of time, so I’m not sure how quickly it will happen, but at least I’ve started.