Saturday, May 2nd, 2015

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At Clearleft, we’ve been running internships for quite a while now (paid internships, of course; there’s no justification for unpaid internships—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). In that time we’ve been incredibly fortunate in getting fantastic people to jump on board our agency train for a few months.

The newest member of our pantheon is James Madson. He took time out of his globetrotting travels to become a temporary Clearlefty. It was great having him around. He’s a smart, humble, talented guy. I’m very glad that he enjoyed his time with us.

And his 100 days project is wonderful.

Friday, May 1st, 2015

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Yesterday was April 30th. On April 30th in 1993, the world changed. But this world-changing event was marked by the simplest of actions—a couple of signatures and a some rubber stamps.

Twenty two years ago the World Wide Web was placed into the public domain.

When I was at CERN a few years ago with my fellow hackers, Robert Cailliau produced his copy of this document. It passed around the table. When it came to me, I held it like a magic scroll.

“Be careful—there are only two copies of that,” he said. “And CERN have misplaced theirs.”

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

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Charlotte and I came up with a fun exercise today to help a client’s dev team to think of patterns at the granular level—something that had been proving difficult to get across.

We print out page designs, hand them some scissors, and get them to cut up the pages into their smallest components. Mix them all up so you can’t even tell which components came from which pages.

Then—after grouping duplicate patterns together—everyone takes a component and codes it up in HTML and CSS. As soon as you’re finished with one pattern, grab another.

Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

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I ate well today. We celebrated Boxman’s birthday with lunch at the Yeoman, a most excellent purveyor of pub food.

Then this evening, Jessica and I went on a double date with Richard and Wendy to the magnificent 64 Degrees. It was a special evening of English food and English wines, in collaboration with local wine guru Henry Butler.

The food was wonderful: oysters, tuna with apples, whelk croquettes, turbot sashimi with fermented butternut squash, asparagus, sea trout cooked like we were in yakitori alley, and thin slices of beetroot with yoghurt for dessert. All accompanied by fine English wines.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

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It started when Jessica relayed something that happened when she was on a cultural walking tour of Sofia two weekends ago. The tour guide asked “Does anyone know who invented the computer?”

Alan Turing? Charles Babbage?

The tour guided pointed to a statue and said, “John Atanasoff.”

I had never heard of him. So of course I looked him up. That led me down the most incredible rabbit hole as I uncovered a courtroom drama filled with invalidated patents and mountains of court records.

Why had I never heard about this? It was eclipsed by a bigger legal drama: Watergate.

Monday, April 27th, 2015

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I get home from a day in London, working on-site with a client. I’ve spent the day trying to crack a tricky responsive navigation issue, still hammering away at it on the train back to Brighton.

Once I’m home I crack open a beer—an Arundel pale ale. Jessica is making a fantastic meal of basque chicken (while simultaneously making some chicken stock). We sit down to eat this wonderful dish accompanied by a green salad and a bottle of Rhone wine.

I’m happy.

While we’re tucking in, we listen to an episode of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time all about cryptography.

Happiness turns to bliss.

The shape of Responsive Day Out 3: The Final Breakpoint

It’s less than two months now until Responsive Day Out 3: The Final Breakpoint. Fortunately there are still some tickets available so if you haven’t got yours yet, it’s not too late. Remember: it’s cheap as chips—just £80+VAT for a day jam-packed with knowledge bombs from twelve(!) fantastic speakers. You’d be crazy to miss it.

If you’ve already got your ticket, you might be wondering what awaits you. Well, if you’ve been to either of the previous days out, you’ll know what to expect: a medley of topics covering all areas of responsive design, from process and workflow through to visual design and code.

The day will be broken up into four segments. Each segment will feature three thematically-related 20 minute talks, back to back. Then those three speakers will join me for a joint chat, where we can take questions from the audience. Check out the videos from the first Responsive Day Out to get feel for the pace or have a listen to the podcast recordings from previous years.

Here’s my rough plan for the four segments this year…

  1. The day will start with some big picture thinking around workflows. There’ll be an emphasis on accessibility—something that can’t just be tagged on to the end of a project. There’s also be a case study of one of the hottest topics in the web designers’ workflow today; style guides and pattern libraries. And importantly, we want to make sure that the role of creativity isn’t forgotten in our new responsive world.
  2. The second segment will be like a mini conference on front-end technologies. There’ll be some deep diving into the latest in CSS techniques, including flexbox, as well as that thorny topic of responsive images. It’s hard to believe, but that’s a topic that hasn’t been covered in previous Responsive Days Out. Time to change that.
  3. After lunch, we’ll start to look beyond today and to the future of responsive design. That’ll begin with a segment on cutting-edge browser technologies. You can expect to be wowed with demos of the latest browser APIs and get your head around the much-hyped world of web components. We won’t shy away from asking how the web can compete with native experiences, like making our sites work offline.
  4. Finally, we’ll end the day—and indeed, the conference series—by taking a high level view of what the future might bring. There’ll be an examination of the skill sets that designers and developers should equip themselves with, and we’ll look beyond the screen to a future of new inputs and outputs.

So the day will have a bell-curved shape to it, starting out with a relatively high-level view, swooping down in the middle to get really stuck in with the technologies of today, before ascending at the end to look into the future.

Friday, June 19th—put that date in your diary. Registration is from 9-10am. There’ll be an hour and a half for lunch (and Street Diner will be on that day!) and everything will wrap up by 5:30pm. It’s going to be an action-packed day—bam! bam! bam!

If you don’t come along to the final Responsive Day Out, you’re going to regret it. So what are you waiting for?

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

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I went spelunking down the caves of the web’s history today. I went digging through the original proposal that Tim Berners-Lee presented to his boss, the late Mike Sendall. I explored the design issues that were raised in the creation the World Wide Web. I rifled through the initial vocabulary of HTML. I watched a video from the web’s twentieth anniversary featuring Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, and Jean-François Groff.

I was able to do all this because my computer was connected to the internet and I was running a piece of software that understood HTTP, URLs, and HTML’s A element.

Extending

Contrary to popular belief, web standards aren’t created by a shadowy cabal and then handed down to browser makers to implement. Quite the opposite. Browser makers come together in standards bodies and try to come to an agreement about how to collectively create and implement standards. That keeps them very busy. They don’t tend to get out very often, but when they do, the browser/standards makers have one message for developers: “We want to make your life better, so tell us what you want and that’s what we’ll work on!”

In practice, this turns out not to be the case.

Case in point: responsive images. For years, this was the number one feature that developers were crying out for. And yet, the standards bodies—and, therefore, browser makers—dragged their heels. First they denied that it was even a problem worth solving. Then they said it was simply too hard. Eventually, thanks to the herculean efforts of the Responsive Images Community Group, the browser makers finally began to work on what developers had been begging for.

Now that same community group is representing the majority of developers once again. Element queries—or container queries—have been top of the wish list of working devs for quite a while now. The response from browser makers is the same as it was for responsive images. They say it’s simply too hard.

Here’s a third example: web components. There are many moving parts to web components, but one of the most exciting to developers who care about accessibility and backwards-compatibility is the idea of extending existing elements:

It’s my opinion that, for as long as there is a dependence on JS for custom elements, we should extend existing elements when writing custom elements. It makes sense for developers, because new elements have access to properties and methods that have been defined and tested for many years; and it makes sense for users, as they have fallback in case of JS failure, and baked-in accessibility fundamentals.

So instead of having to create a whole new element from scratch like this:

<taco-button>Click me!</taco-button>

…you could piggy-back on an existing element like this:

<button is="taco-button">Click me!</button>

That way, you get the best of both worlds: the native semantics of button topped with all the enhancements you want to add with your taco-button custom element. Brilliant! Github is using this to extend the time element, for example.

I’m not wedded to the is syntax, but I do think it’s vital that there is some declarative mechanism to extend existing elements instead of creating every custom element from scratch each time.

Now it looks like that’s the bit of web components that isn’t going to make the cut. Why? Because browser makers say it’s simply too hard.

As Bruce points out, this is in direct conflict with the design principles that are supposed to be driving the creation and implementation of web standards.

It probably wouldn’t bother me so much except that browser makers still trot out the party line, “We want to hear what developers want!” Their actions demonstrate that this claim is somewhat hollow.

I don’t hold out much hope that we’ll get the ability to extend existing elements for web components. I think we can still find ways to piggy-back on existing semantics, but it’s going to take more work:

<taco-button><button>Click me!</button></taco-button>

That isn’t very elegant and I can foresee a lot of trickiness trying to sift the fallback content (the button tags) from the actual content (the “Click me!” text).

But I guess that’s what we’ll be stuck with. The alternative is simply too hard.

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

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It was a busy week with lots of commuting up and down to London, so I’ve been looking forward to a weekend of unwinding.

Jessica and I like to spend our Saturday afternoons doing our shopping for the weekend, planning out some nice leisurely meals. Today we went down to the Open Market, a recently-renovated collection of stalls under one roof selling local produce and goods. The market is also home to an excellent Greek café, where we had lunch.

I guess it’s part of the gentrification of the London Road area. If this is gentrification, bring it on.