Getting back into blogging

The last post on this blog was from 2016, and much has happened since then.

Start of my professional career. Three employers. Four trips to Japan. Getting my own place. A global pandemic. Brewing my own sake. My first car. Australian Citizenship1.

I’ve had multiple attempts at keeping a blog up consistently – it hasn’t stuck and frankly I’ve drifted away from an online presence over the past decade… I don’t even have an account on Instagram or TikTok, and while I still have my Facebook and Twitter/X accounts, they’re effectively in hibernation.

I used to do random posts regularly as a student, blogging through a platform that originally was just a forum, called Geekzone (seems like they wound down that feature now) and tweeting regularly on Twitter. This was back when I had heaps of energy and almost singlehandedly maintained an open resource that listed out providers and prices of internet products like dial-up (!) and ADSL broadband back in New Zealand. Some even wanted it properly funded. Gosh, that takes me back.

Back to the present – I have been “maintaining” this blog in the sense of keeping the software up to date and moving it when hosting has changed a couple of times, but there hasn’t been any real activity on this blog (or as a matter of fact, generally) for a long time.

I don’t have any plans as yet to how I’ll fully reboot this blog, but this post is a note to myself as part of 2024 new year’s resolutions to do more random stuff, more often. I’ve lost a bit of the maker/tinkerer side over the years, and I wanted to get back into that. Keeping a blog up for that hopefully will motivate me to do just that.

Here’s to 2024!

  1. Almost! I’ve been approved but not formally granted it until I attend a Citizenship Ceremony, which I have been recently notified the date of. ↩︎

Virtual Japanese manuscript paper – a short experiment in HTML and CSS, and how browsers fare with vertical text input

If you just want to give this a try now, see the demo page.

A couple of days ago I was looking into the best way to make a custom grid pattern in the least number of HTML tags. The grid only had to be visual, so it didn’t actually need to contain any content (hence the desire to use as few HTML tags), but needed to have a grid that wasn’t just some ordinary square tessellation.

Turns out it’s actually quite easy to do this: CSS has multiple backgrounds and linear gradient capabilities for a few years now. What I hadn’t realised before this was that background positioning was also doable for each of the individual backgrounds. This turns out to be the key to doing this.

Then I thought – why not try applying this to vertical writing? Specifically, creating Japanese manuscript paper (known as 原稿用紙) that I could use on the web without the need for JavaScript to position the text into the “grid”.

Image of Japanese manuscript paper

To replicate the grid, you only need four background layers (plus the white normalising background):

    linear-gradient(to right, transparent 0%, transparent 1px, white 1px, white 0.5em, transparent 0.5em, transparent 100%),
    linear-gradient(to bottom, #CCECCE 0%, #CCECCE 1px, transparent 1px, transparent 100%),
    linear-gradient(to right, #CCECCE 0%, #CCECCE 1px, transparent 1px, transparent 100%),
    linear-gradient(to right, #CCECCE 0%, #CCECCE 1px, transparent 1px, transparent 100%),

background-size: 1.5em 1em;

In order from bottom to top (4th to 1st in the list of linear-gradients above), they are:

  • Vertical line (one side of the column)
  • Vertical line (other side of the column)
  • Horizontal line
  • Mask to cover the horizontal line in the line breaks

The background-size defines a width of 1.5ems, as each grid cell contains the character block (1em) and the line break to the side, which I’ve set to be half width.

All the definitions here are creating 1px wide lines (except for the mask which covers one half-width block in white), so there’s a need to position them or it’ll just be overlapping with each other:

background-position: 0 0, 0 -1px, 0 -1px, 0.5em 0px;

This also is able to work around the inability to specify gradient stops from the end of a linear-gradient. Simply overlay the “other end” of the gradient in the opposite direction and offset it (though this will probably fail to work perfectly for very complex gradients.)

Offsets of -1px are the default for the lines because the outer edges will be given by the border of the whole element, while the last of the vertical lines is offset by 0.5em to emulate the line break region. The mask itself is already aligned to this line break region, so there’s no need to move it.

That’s it. Extremely easy once you get how it’s composed.

Here’s the demo – and I’ve put in vertical writing as part of the grid, so you can see how full-width text fits into the square blocks. That in itself was easy with CSS’s revised writing-mode property.

I’ve enabled contenteditable on it so you can enter CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) full-width text and it should fit! Plus you can print it out for your own use – enter some sample text and practice your handwriting on the printout!

Out of the three Windows browsers I tested (Edge, Chrome, Firefox) – Edge seemed to have the best overall rendering and editing experience. (In fact, Internet Explorer has been supporting vertical writing longer than the other major browsers – since IE 5.5 more than 15 years ago!) Chrome and Firefox are pretty much on par, bar a few minor visual imperfections.

Also interesting was how the browsers handled vertical writing flows and keyboard navigation: Edge and Firefox follow the direction that you enter on the arrow keys, while Chrome follows the direction in the text direction as if you were handling horizontal text rotated 90 degrees clockwise (as in, [RIGHT ARROW KEY] would move down the page.)

In addition, input IMEs are handled much better in Edge and Firefox (left), compared to Chrome (right):

As a side note, I tried using flexbox for the layout, one: because I wanted to layout the page so that the explanatory text is on the right (while keeping the same HTML structure) and grid aligning to the right, and two: because it would allow for easier sizing of the containers, but unfortunately pretty bad rendering bugs with flexbox and top-bottom/right-left text flows meant that it broke the ability for scrolling when the “virtual paper” overflowed. Oh well – maybe browser vendors can fix this in a couple of years… I hope.

You want that transparent, semitransparent or translucent?

Now that I have time messing around with things after my courses have finished (including returning to blogging), I found this interesting option for closed captioning in Windows 10:

(How nice of Microsoft to include a shot our favourite Hobbit residence for the preview pane.)

You get to choose caption transparency as:

  • Default
  • Opaque
  • Translucent
  • Semitransparent
  • Transparent

I can’t believe such a poorly designed set of options is available in a section titled “Ease of Access”.

Let me point out the few problems I have with this:

I’m not sure how many people actually understand fully what the difference is between something being translucent and transparent. I used to be quite bad at this and got told off by my high school design teacher for confusing the two.

You can probably guess that the former is more opaque than the latter from the order in the drop down, and you’d be right. But it’s not like they couldn’t use sensible, easy-to-understand numbers… right? Oh wait.For consistency, they should have replaced them with “Semiregular”, “Regular”, “Enlarged” and “Big”.

What’s the “Default” value? Should captions not be opaque by default? Is the default caption size 200% because captions may be more useful when they’re larger for vision impaired people? Who knows.

What’s the difference between the “Translucent” and “Semitransparent” options? By its very definition, translucency is partial transparency, which one would associate with the word “semitransparent”! Even Google says so:
Here’s the difference between the two options:So “semitransparent” is more transparent than “translucent” but only because it has the word “transparent” in it. Ugh.

What purpose does “Transparent” serve? I seriously don’t know, because it really does set it to make it completely invisible.
If someone needs to use closed captions, why on earth would they set it to “transparent”? And if they don’t want it, they should be able to just turn it off from within whatever application they’re using and not make a system-wide change! (And a practically useless one at that!)

Rant over.

Wait. Uni… again?

This will be short (by my standards) as I’m heading off to start the semester tomorrow when I’ve only just returned less than 48 hours ago, which also included missing Orientation and other things, so that’ll be fun!

I don’t think I can keep up with short-notice surprises on the first of every month, since you probably won’t believe me on April Fools (maybe?) and for the obvious reason that 12 surprises a year would evidently give a poor reader some form of stress-related heart attack[citation..?].

After my graduation from the Australian National University last year, I secretly came back on a mission which involved a bit of toing and froing between departments at the University of Auckland.

End result? I’m now officially a postgraduate student doing Software Engineering* there for at least a little while. Just as that was wrapping up, I jetted off to Europe – with fingers crossed for approvals for my courses which required concessions to be applied (and eventually they did.)

And just in case you’d like to stalk my jetlagged person around, here’s a handy timetable:


  • Yes, I’m now really in Auckland.
  • No, I’m not hanging around a university campus for no reason.
  • Yes, I’m not yet tired of university studies as you can probably tell. Though I will probably be tired of even earlier morning calls now.
  • No, less than a handful of people here actually knew about this – you know who you are if you do.
  • Yes, I’ll be stuck on some form of Auckland’s (sub-par, but improving) public transport for about an hour each way.
  • And no, I didn’t really have a plan for taking this until quite late last year, so as with the theme of this year so far: last-minute.

* Technically it’s a bit more complicated than that, since they actually rejected my application outright the first time, so I’ve ended up having to do a bit of an odd pathway, which actually means I may end up being categorised under Computer Systems Engineering.
But the list of possible course choices are practically the same so I don’t see that being a high possibility. (Or who knows? I can be wrong, when I was not-so-pleasantly surprised with the declined initial application.)


After a couple of years of not maintaining a blog, I thought it was time to get one going again. It must be something like 5 years since I’ve last properly used one!

This is running on a Linode virtual instance somewhere on the West Coast of the USA and doesn’t have much at present (set up was only a couple of days ago.) Update: Much has changed since this was first written…

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