This is my kind of talk—John Snow’s cholera map, the Yucca Mountain think-tank, the Pioneer plaque, the Voyager record, the Drake equation, the Arecibo signal, and the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
♫ These are a few of my fav-our-ite things! ♫
This is my kind of talk—John Snow’s cholera map, the Yucca Mountain think-tank, the Pioneer plaque, the Voyager record, the Drake equation, the Arecibo signal, and the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
♫ These are a few of my fav-our-ite things! ♫
A lovely profile of Claude Shannon (concluding with an unexpected Brighton connection).
I really, really like this approach. I’ve used something similar in my responsive design workshops, where I get people to break things down into nouns and verbs (objects and actions). I think there’s a lot of crossover with good URL design here too—this is kind of like REST for UX designers.
Chris’s homage to I, Pencil.
I, Website, am a complex combination of miracles.
An ongoing photography project from Curtis:
Beyond Work tells stories about humans at work, with no judgement or glorification. It’s an attempt at unearthing the social, cultural and functional world of work, that’s become invisible in everyday life.
A transatlantic cable, hurrah!
As well as compèring the event, Chris took the time to make notes at the Clarity conference, dedicated to all things patterny.
One of these days I’m going to step outside of my PHP comfort zone and actually build something in Node. One of these days. When I do, this book looks like a good place to start (and the online version is free).
There’s that Acheulean hand ax again.
The first ever object to be designed by man 1.7 million years ago was a flint hand axe. Flint has the same molecular structure as a crystal and they both consist of silica. The project juxtaposes the flint hand axe with the latest crystal technology; Xero chaton the world’s smallest precision cut crystal measuring 0.6mm in diameter, smaller than a grain of sand.
Even more intriguing than their vast distribution across three continents is their time depth. Acheulean hand axes have been found at sites spanning 1.5 million years of human existence, dating from roughly 1.6 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. That makes the Acheulean ax the most sustainable technology that members of our genus (Homo) ever developed. Consider, in contrast, the amount of technological change that has occurred in just the last 150 years (since the first telephone call), one ten-thousandth the amount of time the Acheulean hand ax was made and used. Or consider the amount of technological change in just the last 10 years (since the first iPhone was introduced), one one-hundred-fifty-thousandth the amount of time that Acheulean hand axes were made and used. In the memorable words of my former professor Arthur J. Jelinek, hand axes represent “mind-numbing technological stability.”
Science fiction as a means of energising climatic and economic change:
Fiction, and science fiction in particular, can help us imagine many futures, and in particular can help us to direct our imaginations towards the futures we want. Imagining a particular kind of future isn’t just day dreaming: it’s an important and active framing that makes it possible for us to construct a future that approaches that imagined vision. In other words, imagining the future is one way of making that future happen.
But it’s important that these visions are preserved:
It’s very likely that our next Octavia Butler is today writing on WattPad or Tumblr or Facebook. When those servers cease to respond, what will we lose? More than the past is at stake—all our imagined futures are at risk, too.
Continuing the topic of public speaking, Jenn has a really good technique for figuring out how to arrange the pieces of your talk without getting bogged down in designing slides.
360 terabytes of data stored for over 13 billion years:
Coined as the ‘Superman memory crystal’, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz. The information encoding is realised in five dimensions: the size and orientation in addition to the three dimensional position of these nanostructures.
Monika’s end-of-year piece is rather excellent:
The map exposes the network of fibre optic internet cables that lie deep below the sea giving an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them.
A note of optimism for digital preservation:
Where a lack of action may have been more of the case in the 01990s, it is certainly less so today. In the early days, there were just a handful of pioneers talking about and working on digital preservation, but today there are hundreds of tremendously intelligent and skilled people focused on preserving access to the yottabytes of digital cultural heritage and science data we have and will create.
An examination of how sites like The Session are meshing with older ideas of traditional Irish music:
There is a very interesting tension at play here – one that speaks directly to the design of new technologies. On the one hand, Irish musicians appear to be enthusiastically adopting digital media to establish a common repertoire of tunes, while on the other the actual performance of these tunes in a live session is governed by a strong etiquette that emphasizes the importance of playing by ear.
There’s an accompanying paper called Supporting Traditional Music-Making: Designing for Situated Discretion (PDF).
A fascinating slice of ethnographic research in Myanmar by Craig. There’s no mention of the web, which is certainly alarming, but then again, that’s not the focus of the research.
Interestingly, while Facebook is all omnipresent and dominant, nobody is using it the way that Facebook wants: all the accounts are basically “fake”.
What I found fascinating are the ways that people have found to bypass app stores. They’re basically being treated as damage and routed ‘round. So while native apps are universal, app stores would appear to be a first world problem.
Now if there were only some kind of universally accessible distribution channel that didn’t require any kind of installation step …hmmm.
This a magnificent piece of writing from James …all about pieces of metal fabric.
A single technology – the vacuum-deposition of metal vapour onto a thin film substrate – makes its consecutive and multiple appearances at times of stress and trial: at the dawn of the space age, in orbit and on other planets, at the scene of athletic feats of endurance, in defence and offence in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, on the beaches of the European archipelago. These are moments of hope as well as failure; moments when, properly utilised, technological progress enables us to achieve something which was beyond our capabilities before. And yet: we are still pulling bodies from the water wrapped in material which was meant to send us into space.
Such a vividly nostalgic project. Choose an obsolete browser. Enter a URL. Select which slice of the past you want to see.
Digital archives in action. Access drives preservation.
I have no hands-on experience with React, but this tutorial by Jack Franklin looks like a great place to start. Before the tutorial begins he succinctly and clearly outlines the perfect architecture for building on the web today:
- The next time a user clicks, rather than being sent to the server, the client-side app is in control.
Y’know, I had a chance to chat briefly with Jack at the Edge conference in London and I congratulated him on the launch of a Go Cardless site that used exactly this technique. He told me that the decision to flip the switch and make it act as a single page app came right at the end of the project. I think that points to a crucial mindset that’s reiterated here:
A really nice piece by Paul Ford on the history of databases and the dream of the Semantic Web.
Sometimes I get a little wistful. The vision of a world of connected facts, one big, living library, remains beautiful, and unfulfilled.
A riotously great short story…
“It always comes down to that, doesn’t it?” said the voice in disgust, now circling around Tark. “Whether a successful Internet filmmaker can also be insane. Given that his quote-unquote insanity is also the fuel for his objectively measurable success as an entrepreneur. And whether it makes sense to judge him by the standards of talking dinosaurs from Mars.”
Sounds from our collective technological past.
(I’ll look past the fact that the sound labelled “ZX Spectrum” is using an image of an Amstrad PCP 464)
A new presentation from the wonderfully curmudgeonly Steven Pemberton, the Nosferatu of the web. Ignore the clickbaity title.
This part really, really resonated with me:
The web is the way now that we distribute information. We will need the web pages we create now to be readable in 100 years time, just as we can still read 100-year-old books.
A short feature on the 10,000 year clock.
Web technology is no longer limiting us or scaring us into “staying safe” moreover it’s enabling us to get inspired by our surroundings and go and create some truly amazing, Web-Specific design.
This looks like a terrific presentation from Alla on iconography, semiotics, and communication.
Ben and Erin are shipping experimental support for AMP in the latest version of Known, but Ben has some concerns about the balance of power tilting towards one major player, in this case Google:
But it’s Google’s whitelist of approved ad providers that’s most concerning:
We’ve shipped support for AMP because we see potential here, and recognize that something should be done to improve the experience of loading independently-published content on the web. But attempting to bake certain businesses into a web standard is a malformed idea that is doomed to fail. If this is not corrected in future versions of the specification, we will withdraw support.
There are Inception-like layers of nostalgia here: firstly, this web series of web pages made by Matt are a throwback to an earlier era, and secondly, the story being told goes all the way back to the birth of the ARPAnet.
This is such a delightful story of a brilliant mistake—true typographic nerdery and nostalgia.
Read all the way through for a free gift.
I really like this comparison between Waldsterben and the current situation with the web after years of pervasive tracking.
John expands on just one part of his superbly dense and entertaining dConstruct talk.
Any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from a haunting. In the same way that many Internet of Things objects are referred to as ‘enchanting’ or ‘magical,’ with an intervention, they can very quickly become haunted.
Kelli Anderson’s thesis on the Human Interference Task Force project set up to mark nuclear waste sites for future generations (a project I’ve referenced in some of my talks).
This infographic offers a visual way to explore the various stages of the Earth’s history using a 12 hour clock analogy.
It is a sad and beautiful world.
Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.
A magnificent presentation from Maciej that begins by drawing parallels between the aviation industry in the 20th century and the technology industry in the 21st:
So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.
Unless we screw it up.
And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people.
But if that sounds too upbeat for you…
Too much of what was created in the last fifty years is gone because no one took care to preserve it.
We have heroic efforts like the Internet Archive to preserve stuff, but that’s like burning down houses and then cheering on the fire department when it comes to save what’s left inside. It’s no way to run a culture. We take better care of scrap paper than we do of the early Internet, because at least we look at scrap paper before we throw it away.
And then there’s this gem:
It finishes with three differing visions of the web, one of them desirable, the other two …not so much. This presentation is a rallying cry for the web we want.
Let’s reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they’ve imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.
A fantastic piece by David Weinberger on the changing uses of the internet—apparently in contradiction of the internet’s original architecture.
Some folks invented the Internet for some set of purposes. They gave it a name, pointed to some prototypical examples—sharing scientific papers and engaging in email about them—shaping the way the early adopters domesticated it.
But over time, the Internet escaped from its creators’ intentions. It became a way to communicate person-to-person via email and many-to-many via Usenet. The web came along and the prototypical example became home pages. Social networking came along and the prototype became Facebook.
This is the way to approach building for the web:
I want to make as few of those assumptions as possible. Because every assumption I make introduces fragility. Every assumption introduces another way that my site can break.
It’s progressive enhancement, but like Stuart, Tim is no longer planning to use that term.
The full text of Aaron’s magnificent closing keynote from Responsive Day Out.
A fantastically-detailed write up of the whole day out. Each talk is described, and then the threads are tied together at the end. Great stuff!
As may have become clear from my notes above, Responsive Day Out 3 was a day full of variety. I had the feeling it could have easily been called Web Day Out, and I guess that makes sense, as responsive web design has naturally grown to be a pleonasm in the past few years.
Orde liveblogged every single talk from Responsive Day Out 3!
It seems grossly unfair to refer to this as an article. It’s a short book. It’s a very good short book; lucid and entertaining in equal measure. A very enjoyable read.
It is, unfortunately, surrounded by some distracting “enhancements” but perhaps you can use your cleaner-upper software of choice to route around their damage: Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, whatever works for you.
Hillary, legendary for being the first to scale Mount Everest with teammate Tenzing Norgay, was on board, and Armstrong was, too, saying he was curious to see what the North Pole looked like from ground level, as he’d only seen it from the moon. Astronaut problems.
The controversial hamburger icon goes mainstream with this story on the BBC News site.
It still amazes me that, despite clear data, many designers cling to the belief that the icon by itself is understandable (or that users will “figure it out eventually”). Why the aversion to having a label for the icon?
Here’s a really nifty use of the
:checked behaviour pattern that Charlotte has been writing about—an interface for choosing a note from a piano keyboard. Under the hood, it’s a series of radio buttons and labels.
Here’s a lovely project with an eye on the Long Now. Trees that were planted last year will be used to make paper to print an anthology in 2114.
Margaret Atwood is one of the contributors.
I like this. It fills like a very webby way to explore a museum collection. Use any axis you like.
This is a sketch made quickly to explore what it means to navigate a museum catalogue made of over two million records. It’s about skipping around quickly, browsing the metadata as if you were wandering around the museum itself in Bloomsbury, or better yet, fossicking about unattended in the archives.
A PDF of Clarke’s classic essay on the follies of prediction. From the 1972 collection The Futurists, edited by Alvin Toffler.
Before there was radar, there were acoustic mirrors along the coast of England—parabolic structures designed to funnel the distant sound of approaching aircraft.
I love this talk.
Alex takes a long-zoom look at the web and our technology stacks, from ’60s counterculture to start-up culture, touching on open source and the indie web along the way.
This is a fascinating bit of web archeology: John has annotated the code from one of the earliest versions of jQuery.
Jo writes about hosting Codebar Brighton. I share her enthusiasm—it feels like a great honour to be able to host such a great community event.
Mike runs through the history of Flash. Those who forget the history of the web are doomed to repeat it:
The struggle now seems to be turning to native apps versus non-native apps on the mobile platform. It is similar to Flash’s original battle ground: the argument that the Web technology stack is not suitable for building applications with a polished user-experience.
Still a few days left to back this great project for Brighton:
Build, tinker, make and play! For anyone with imagination, The Brighton Makerlab lets ages 8 to 80 create cool stuff with technology.
Alternative histories of communication.
Superb. Absolutely superb.
A magnificent tour-de-force by Frank on the web’s edgelessness.
Read. Absorb. Read again. This is the essence of responsive web design, distilled.
Objects that talk are useful, but objects that tattle aren’t.
There’s a whole bunch of great events happening in Brighton this March: Codebar, Curiosity Hub, She Codes Brighton, 300 Seconds, She Says Brighton, and Ladies that UX. Lots of these will be downstairs from Clearleft in Middle Street—very handy!
Tim Maughan reports on the same container ship trip that Dan W. is sending his postcards from.
I like the idea of there being an Apollo-sized project all around us, if you just know where to look.
First, towering above and over the ship, are the loading cranes. Vast structures mounted on huge, four-legged frames, they resemble the naked scaffolding of unbuilt skyscrapers, and trigger nostalgic reminders of Saturn V rocket launch towers from the 1960s.
Once in port at night I saw one suddenly fire into life next to the ship in a stroboscopic explosion of lights, before it tracked slowly above my high vantage point, bathing me in the orange glow of a dozen small halogen suns.
A profile of the wonderful Internet Archive.
No one believes any longer, if anyone ever did, that “if it’s on the Web it must be true,” but a lot of people do believe that if it’s on the Web it will stay on the Web. Chances are, though, that it actually won’t.
Brewster Kahle is my hero.
Kahle is a digital utopian attempting to stave off a digital dystopia. He views the Web as a giant library, and doesn’t think it ought to belong to a corporation, or that anyone should have to go through a portal owned by a corporation in order to read it. “We are building a library that is us,” he says, “and it is ours.”
Designing primarily in a laptop web browser and testing with a mouse rather than fingers may come to look very out of date soon.
An important clarification from Stephen:
You don’t actually design in the browser
When I speak of designing in the browser, I mean creating browser-based design mockups/comps (I use the terms interchangeably), as opposed to static comps (like the PSDs we’re all used to). So it’s not the design. It’s the visualization of the design—the one you present to stakeholders.
Personally, I think it’s as crazy to start in the browser as it is to start with Photoshop—both have worldviews and constraints that will affect your thinking. Start with paper.
Like an Enid Blyton adventure for the 21st century, James goes out into the country and explores the networks of microwave transmitters enabling high-frequency trading.
If you think that London’s skyscraper boom is impressive – the Shard, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin – go to Slough. It is not height that matters, but bandwidth.
How to get Yosemite to display five-digit years. It’s a bit of a hack, but we’ve got another 7,985 years to figure out a better solution.
A look at long-term cultural and linguistic preservation through the lens of Egyptology.
Seb will be running this workshop again at the start of February—details here. I can’t recommend it highly enough—it’s so, so good!
Tim Carmody on James Cameron’s meisterwerk (and technology in sci-fi films in general).
James takes a tour through the English countryside, while venturing into areas of the electromagnetic spectrum that may as well be labelled “Private Property. No Trespassing. Keep Out.”
Typeset In The Future is back with another cracking analysis. This time—following on from 2001 and Moon—we’ve got Alien.
In her final recorded message before hypersleep, Ripley notes that she is the sole survivor of the Nostromo. What she forgets to mention is that she has not once in the past two hours encountered any Eurostile Bold Extended.
We’re going back to the moon. With a robot. So we can take sublunarean samples.
You can help fund it on Kickstarter.
Language death and digital preservation.
I mentioned this a little while back, but it’s worth remembering just how many people are using Opera Mini …and how many more are about to join them.
Bring it on!
An epic braindump by Dan, covering connected devices, product design, co-creation, DIY, and knopening stuff up. That’s right: knopening.
Knopen, a fairly obvious portmanteau of know and open, can be a verb (to knopen something) or an adjective (e.g. a knopen tool).
Focus on what you want to learn; not what you think you should learn.
There is a lot of pressure out there: to learn new things, to spend all your time coding, to be the super developer. I now believe that to be impossible and unhealthy. It means you aren’t living a balanced life and it also means that you’re living under constant stress and pressure.
My name is Jeremy and I am a boring front-end developer.
Companies go out of business, get bought and change policies, so what if you had one place to originate all of your content then publish it out to those great social services? And hey, why not pull comments from those services back to your original post?
That’s the idea behind Indie Web Camp: have your own website be the canonical source of what your publish. But right now, getting all of the moving parts up and running requires a fair dollop of tech-savviness. That’s where Known comes in:
It’s similar to the WordPress model: you can create a blog on their servers, or you can download the software and host it on your own.
This post is a good run-down of what’s working well with Known, and what needs more work.
How the printing press led to the microscope, and chlorination transformed women’s fashion—Steven Johnson channels James Burke.
When I wrote about Reddit and Hacker News, criticising their lack of moderation, civility, and basic decency, many people (invariably men) responded in defence of Reddit. Nobody defended Hacker News. Nobody.
Oh, and all of you people (men) defending Reddit? Here’s your party line …I find it abhorrent.
I really like Phil’s braindump of conference ideas. Frankly, many of these ideas work just as well as watchwords for building on the web:
- Different models for start-ups. Co-operatives. Employee ownership. Normal, slowly-growing, profit-making businesses.
- Technology for people who don’t live in the first world. (There’s a lot of them and they have a lot of technology, but most of us know nothing about it.)
- Websites that make the whole Web better.
- New services that work fine on technology that’s been around for years.
- Services designed for people who have little money.
- Services designed for people who aren’t fully able.
- Models for keeping services running over the long-term. (What happens when your company closes, or to your personal projects when you die?)
But under the guise of innovation and progress, companies are stripping away worker protections, pushing down wages, and flouting government regulations. At its core, the sharing economy is a scheme to shift risk from companies to workers, discourage labor organizing, and ensure that capitalists can reap huge profits with low fixed costs.
There’s nothing innovative or new about this business model. Uber is just capitalism, in its most naked form.
The text of Mandy’s astounding dConstruct talk.
A documentary on our digital dark age. Remember this the next time someone trots out the tired old lie that “the internet never forgets.”
If we lose the past, we will live in an Orwellian world of the perpetual present, where anybody that controls what’s currently being put out there will be able to say what is true and what is not. This is a dreadful world. We don’t want to live in this world. —Brewster Kahle
It’s a terrible indictment of where our priorities were for the last 20 years that we depend essentially on children and maniacs to save our history of this sort. —Jason Scott
Slides and transcript from Anab’s terrific dConstruct talk.
How computers work:
One day, a man name Alan Turing found a magic lamp, and rubbed it. Out popped a genie, and Turing wished for infinite wishes. Then we killed him for being gay, but we still have the wishes.
Then we networked computers together:
The network is ultimately not doing a favor for those in power, even if they think they’ve mastered it for now. It increases their power a bit, it increases the power of individuals immeasurably. We just have to learn to live in the age of networks.
We are all nodes in many networks. This is a beautiful description of how one of those networks operates.
Cole Peters calls upon designers and developers to realise the power they have to shape the modern world and act accordingly.
It is in those of us who work in tech and on the web that digital privacy may find its greatest chance for survival. As labourers in one of the most pivotal industries of our times, we possess the knowledge and skills required to create tools and ecosystems that defend our privacy and liberties.
I don’t disagree, but I think it’s also important to recognise how much power is in the hands of non-designers and non-developers: journalists, politicians, voters …everyone has a choice to make.
Scott shares the code that Filament Group are using to determine which style declarations are critical (and can be inlined) and which are non-critical (and can be loaded asynchronously). It makes quite a difference in perceived performance.
By the way, I really, really like the terminology of “critical” and “non-critical” CSS, rather than “above the fold” and “below the fold” CSS.
This year’s collection of twelve sci-fi stories from Technology Review features three dConstruct speakers: Lauren Beukes, Cory Doctorow, and Warren Ellis.
The image-stitching algorithm is trying its best.
Lighthouse are putting on their Improving Reality conference again this year. It’s the day before dConstruct. Come to both!
A profile of Norbert Wiener, and how his star was eclipsed by Claude Shannon.
On the fifth anniversary of Pinboard, Maciej reflects on working on long-term projects:
Avoiding burnout is difficult to write about, because the basic premise is obnoxious. Burnout is a rich man’s game. Rice farmers don’t get burned out and spend long afternoons thinking about whether to switch to sorghum.
The good news is, as you get older, you gain perspective. Perspective helps alleviate burnout.
The bad news is, you gain perspective by having incredibly shitty things happen to you and the people you love. Nature has made it so that perspective is only delivered in bulk quantities. A railcar of perspective arrives and dumps itself on your lawn when all you needed was a microgram.
The transcript of Anab Jain’s talk from the FutureEverything Festival.