I’d appreciate any comments you have on this content; it will shape future editions.

My original intention was to send this content for subscribers initially and then publish it for all a week or so later. However, I love comments (more on which below) and want the chance for subscribers to comment straight away. By all means, if you would rather email, by all means do. However, if you are happy to comment publicly, it will help me collate feedback and allow us to discuss the contents better.

For now, the best I can offer in thanks for your subscription is that this update will be RSS and subscriber only.

What I’m working on

RWD 3rd edition

I’ve just finished the first draft of the final chapter of the 3rd Edition of ‘Responsive Web Design with HTML5 and CSS3’. It’s easily the most popular book I’ve written.

I wrote the first edition back in 2011/2012, the second in 2014/2015. It’s amazing to see how far things have come in that time. Mobile has obviously exploded but the tools we have to work with now are so much better. For example, there’s a huge chapter on CSS Grid in this edition. Something that was just a pipe-dream in 2012! I found Grid pretty tricky at first. I kind of needed to unlearn much of what I knew. Once it clicked though – Oh My! If you haven’t found the time to learn Grid, move it up to the top of your ‘to learn’ list – regardless of if you pick up a copy of my new book to learn it or not.

Getting this edition done has been a slog. It’s something I’ve been doing each evening with the 30–60 minutes I can grab.

When I first started thinking about writing another book, I toyed with the idea of switching from an iMac to a Macbook so I could at least sit with my wife in the evening, however distracted I might be. However, a colleague in a similar place in life suggested I adopt a more habit-based approach and just dedicate 30 mins every day to the task. That was what he had adopted to pursue his music career. By the way, if you like electric music, check out his latest release, ‘Taken By The Heart’: https://open.spotify.com/track/42oyNFAgNQoWq6UouQJ0wC?si=2kZmzKzDSYitT0tDIrdAOQ

This habit based approach is the one I adopted to get a little PWA app built – something I wrote about for Smashing Magazine – and it’s worked here for writing this book too.

So, in the absence of a better approach, when it comes to side-projects, I’m embracing this technique – thinking like the tortoise in the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’.

Height adjustable desk

One ‘indulgence’ I did allow myself from the outset was investing in a height adjustable desk. I managed to pick up the Flexispot E5W electric legs in an Amazon lightning deal for £251.99 and added an inexpensive Bamboo table top from Ikea. This thing is a revelation. I’m not lucky enough to have a standing desk in the day job and the last thing I wanted was to be sat down all evening too.

This desk allows up to four memory settings (realistically a sit and stand for two different people) so you just press a button and up/down it goes to your stored height. Brilliant! You can even set it to remind you every 45 minutes to change from sitting to standing and vice-versa.

This is one of the best investments I have made in personal equipment. Easily as worthwhile as the Sony XM3 headphones.

A note taking app?

I’m wondering if anyone would pay $2 a month (say) for a note taking application that works on all devices and (unique selling point) saves every version of a note you ever made? That’s ticking away in the back of my mind as my next side project. Maybe just scratching my own itch with that one??

Reading

Books

Audible is the last monthly subscription I would cancel if funds were short. Here are five reads (listens?) from the last 12 months I’ve enjoyed:

The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben MacIntyre – true story of the UKs most successful spy in Russia/Soviet Union. Absolute belter this. Recommended this to my parents, friends and collegues — everyone last enjoyed it. https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Spy-and-the-Traitor-Audiobook/B07B5BFFXS

Can’t Hurt Me, by David Goggins – this is not a perfect book by any stretch. Nor can I agree with all Goggin’s views. However, if you want to recalibrate your idea of what the human body and mind is capable of. This is the book for you! I certainly took a lot from it. https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Cant-Hurt-Me-Audiobook/B07KKNG85B

How Not to Die, by Dr Michael Greger, Gene Stone — I’m not entirely on the vegetarian/vegan bandwagon but what this book did do is open my eyes to the fact I was almost certainly eating too much meat and giving it undue attention in my diet. Regardless of your point of view I think you’ll find this an interesting read. It does get a little like a stuck record by the end though! https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/How-Not-to-Die-Audiobook/B075LTM2WK

The Secret Commonwealth, by Philip Pullman — I’ve been a huge fan of the Dark Materials books since there release 20-odd years ago. These prequels, of which ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ is the second, are equally compelling. https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Secret-Commonwealth-Audiobook/0241379334

The Body, by Bill Bryson — your body is the most incredible thing you will ever own. This book proves it. If you have any interest in human biology whatsoever, this will blow your mind. https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Body-Audiobook/B07MVKBKNG

Blog posts

In terms of blog posts, it’s a shame I have’t catalogued everything I have read and enjoyed. Here are some I can remember:

https://evilmartians.com/chronicles/what-i-learned-as-a-developer-from-accidents-in-space — I’m a big fan of Andrey’s work. Not only have things like PostCSS and Autoprefixer literally revolutionised the way many of us write CSS, the way he approaches his projects is inspiring.

Bad Boss? Crazy relation? This is a fantastic long piece about narcissism, deadlines and leadership: https://medium.com/@duncanr/deadlines-are-killing-us-and-almost-everything-else-i-know-about-leadership–7032a5fb12ac

I’m surprised it hasn’t received wider circulation.

Great piece about why iOS and Mac are buggy from ex Apple engineer: https://tidbits.com/2019/10/21/six-reasons-why-ios–13-and-catalina-are-so-buggy/

I love it when content creators share how they are forging a living for themselves. Craig Mod offers a fantastic blow-by-blow here: https://craigmod.com/essays/membership_programs/

Random thoughts

CMS systems and commenting

So many people are into JAMstack CMS systems currently. I just wish one of them would include a commenting system. There are so few CMS systems that have commenting built in and I think it is absolutely essential for a blogger to control the comments on their own content.

I have no love of PHP but I won’t be moving away from WordPress on the front-end until I find a good CMS with commenting backed in. Maybe Ghost v4?

Design systems

There is a whole industry that has popped up around Design Systems. There are jobs (and even Manager Roles?!?) associated with them. This movement astonishes me. I think their value in creating a product is entirely out of whack with the amount of lip-service and industry attention they receive. I’m clearly in the minority here though. As this Twitter poll I ran illustrates: https://twitter.com/benfrain/status/1224999149323591680

MDN data and caniuse.com

A little anecdotal but since merging data with MDN I have found caniuse.com is often completely incorrect — especially when it comes to Safari.

Work kit and tech choices

I’m still on Vim. Still enjoying it! Just switched to JetBrains Mono as my editor font of choice (was using Dank Mono previously). Like Fira Code and growing number of other mono-spaced fonts it has ligatures. I’ve read complaints about ligatures in programming fonts (e.g. https://practicaltypography.com/ligatures-in-programming-fonts-hell-no.html) but I still disagree; I find those arguments weak. It doesn’t effect the source code so just use what you like I say!

I lost a finger

It took a while to finish this newsletter because half way through I had an accident and subsequently had to have my left ring-finger removed at the first knuckle. If you’re reading that and thinking WTF! Then probably easier to read the blow by blow account I wrote shortly after: https://benfrain.com/ring-avulsion-how-i-lost-my-wedding-ring-finger/ I can’t tell you it’s a fun read so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Mechanical keyboards

I’ve spent a few months diving, even deeper into mechanical keyboards to write a monster article on the subject for Smashing magazine.

I was already a convert to mechanical keyboards but this has sent my addiction into overdrive.

The article isn’t published yet but shouldn’t be long. It covers (hopefully) everything on the subject and stops just short of talking about building your own keyboard.

I’ve now looked at a bunch of great mechanical boards, trying things like the ErgoDoxEZ, the WASD CODE v3 and more different keyboard switches than you can shake a keyboard at!

If an article on building your own keyboard is a piece you would like to read let me know and be sure to comment to that effect on the Smashing article if you see it.

I’ve recently finished building my own keyboard. That involved sourcing separate aluminium keyboard case, PCB, key switches, key caps, key stabilizers and more. Think of it like Lego for keyboards! Hugely satisfying and I enjoyed learning to solder.

Until next time

Thanks for reading. If you were someone who signed up when I originally said I would write a newsletter I’m sorry! I know it has been a ridiculous delay.

Hopefully, with your feedback, I can make this a more regular thing.

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Write and maintain large scale modular CSS and embrace modern tooling including PostCSS, Stylelint and Gulp