Archive: September, 2008

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Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Reading immaterial

In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, William Gibson said:

One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real, the virtual from the real.

Bear that dying distinction in mind when I tell you that Joe’s new book is out. It’s called Organizing Our Marvellous Neighbours (geddit?). It’s all about spelling in Canadian English. If you buy it, you’ll get the book in HTML and PDF with very liberal licensing.

You can print it out if you want a physical artefact but it’s made to be read on-screen. If you fancy reading it on an iPhone or iPod Touch, I recommend getting the FileMagnet app which allows you to transfer files—including PDFs—from your computer to your i(Phone|Pod) over WiFi.

In the future, you’ll probably be able to just transfer the files directly to your brain.

Automata

The Flash on the Beach conference is currently underway here in Brighton. I spoke at the conference two years ago so thanks to organiser John Davey’s commitment to giving past speakers guest passes to future events, I’ve been popping in and out of the Dome over the past couple of days to sit in on some talks.

Yesterday I saw Branden Hall talk about Brilliant Ideas that I’ve Blatantly Stolen. Although his specific examples dealt with ActionScript, his overall message was applicable to any developer: look around at other languages and frameworks and scavenge anything you like the look of.

I wanted to make it to Aral’s talk this morning but as he was on first thing and I’m a lazy bugger, that didn’t really work out. I did, however, make it over in time to hear Carla Diana.

Carla made her name in the Flash world a few years ago with her wonderful site Repercussion where you can play around with sounds through a lovely isometric interface. Lately she’s been working with robots. Or rather, one robot in particular: Leo.

Here’s Leo attempting to become a that :

Leo

Carla’s job was to come up with a skin for Leo that didn’t send children running screaming. Yes, it’s the problem that plagues Japanese robots and Robert Zemeckis CGI movies in equal measure: .

Want to see something uncanny?

Boston Dynamics Big Dog

I was at Carla’s talk with Sophie and we were talking about robots afterwards (as you would). She said that watching robots in motion often makes her feel sad. Looking at that video, particularly the bit where the quadruped is kicked to demonstrate its balance, I understand what she means.

Funnily enough, my favourite robot is also a quadruped. All I want for Christmas is a .

Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG

Or I maybe I should just build my own. The latest project that Carla Diana is working on is something to make the arduino enthusiast drool. It’s called littleBits:

littleBits is an opensource library of discrete electronic components pre-assembled in tiny circuit boards. Just as Legos allow you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are simple, intuitive, space-sensitive blocks that make prototyping with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together.

littleBits intro

Nasty as they wanna be? Policing Flickr.com

A nice little report on community management at Flickr.

reboot10 - Jeremy Keith talks about the Transmission of Tradition

Here's the video of my talk from this year's Reboot conference in Copenhagen. I had a lot of fun talking about (and playing) Irish music here.

moomazon

Here's a nifty little mashup from Simon: create Moo cards with book details from Amazon.

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Time to stop showing clients static design visuals | For A Beautiful Web

Andy makes a great case for presenting clients with designs in HTML/CSS rather than flat, fixed, non-interactive graphics.

CSS Systems for writing maintainable CSS | Natalie Downe

It looks like Natalie's presentation at BarCamp London 5 was excellent.

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

This, That and the Other Thing | the human network

Mark Pesce's closing keynote from Web Directions South 2008. Great stuff, as always.

GT!Blog » Why Japan didn’t create the iPod

Could it be that the inability of 8-bit computers to render Kanji had a direct influence on the direction of Japan's electronic product design and economy?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Maneki Neko - ScottWiki

It's been years since I read this charming Bruce Sterling short story but there isn't a week goes by that I don't think of it. It has grown more relevant over time.

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Anti-pattern recognition

A new site called My Name Is E launched for beta testing today. Eager geeks rushed to sign up for the contact aggregation service. The second step of the process involved handing over your Twitter username and password. This request was dutifully obeyed by the eager geeks.

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This is a classic example of the password anti-pattern. And this time it bit the willing victims on the ass. My Name Is E used the credentials to log in to Twitter as that person and post a spammy message from their account.

This is identity theft. It’s not as extreme as having your credit card used or having somebody get in to your email account but it’s still an unrequested violation of personal details. I’m very interested in hearing how the willing victims felt when they saw the message appear on Twitter with their own name and their own avatar next to it. I imagine adjectives like “outraged” and “shocked” would describe the initial reaction but I wonder if “embarrassed” would be far behind.

The “auto-tweeting feature[sic]” was removed within hours in response to the overwhelming negative reaction, as demonstrated on Get Satisfaction. What’s ironic, in the Alanis Morissette definition of the word, is that the Get Satisfaction page features a “share” tab that includes a link to “Twitter this.” Click it. Go on.

Needless to say, I disapprove of what My Name Is E did. But I don’t lay the blame entirely at their feet. Frankly, I’m really disappointed that so many people who really ought to know better were so quick to hand over their Twitter password to any site other than Twitter.

I blame Facebook.

I don’t mean that facetiously. I really do blame Facebook. I also blame Digg. And LinkedIn. And Plaxo. And Twitter.

All of those sites—and many others—actively, sometimes aggressively, use the password anti-pattern. Together they have created a pervasive atmosphere in which it is now completely acceptable for even seasoned geeks to throw their passwords ‘round like car keys at a dodgy ’70s party.

I’ve been banging on about the password anti-password for what feels like ages now. I keep saying that it’s teaching users how to be phished. After a particularly dispiriting discussion of OAuth on the iPhone, Simon went one further and put it in the past tense.

I fear that Simon may be right. But I’m not going to give up hope just yet. Now that Google, Yahoo and Hotmail all have OAuth-style contacts APIs, I think the tide could still be turned.

Mind you, Twitter’s continuing lack of an OAuth-based API is nothing short of shameful, as acknowledged by Blaine in his comment here:

OAuth came out of my worry that if the Twitter API became popular, we’d be spreading passwords all around the web. OAuth took longer to finish than it took for the Twitter API to become popular, and as a result many Twitter users’ passwords are scattered pretty carelessly around the web. This is a terrible situation, and one we as responsible web developers should work to prevent.

So while Twitter positively encourages the password anti-pattern (by example and by design), the situation is very different now for Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Access to those web-based email services are used as justification for the majority of instances of the password anti-pattern. Now that they all offer alternatives, the only reason for abusers (like Digg and LinkedIn) not to switch from the password anti-pattern to using the official APIs is development time and priority.

Those are valid reasons for not immediately making the switch so I understand that not everybody scrambled to implement, say, the Google Contacts API in the week it came out. But it was released in March. It is now September. Surely that’s long enough for even a low priority task to get implemented?

I realise that I sound very negative in my finger-pointing here so I’d like to give credit where credit is due. Back in March, I listed a chart of web sites who were using the password anti-pattern but who I hoped would switch over. Shame on me for not including Flickr in the list because they were the first to follow Dopplr’s lead and scrap the anti-pattern in favour of a seamless import feature. Shame on me also for putting Last.fm at the bottom of the list. As part of their recent redesign, they too scrapped the anti-pattern. Good for them!

At the top of my list of sites I expected to ditch the anti-pattern was Pownce. Alas, they’re still not all the way there (Yahoo import is working correctly, GMail and AOL isn’t). But after some petulant grandstanding on my part, I have been assured that they are working on it.

I know I should care more about the big abusers like LinkedIn and Facebook than the little guys like Slideshare and Pownce. But it’s precisely because I love Pownce so, so much that it upsets me to see them get such an important thing so wrong when they get everything else so, so right.

Y’see, I’ve been thinking of putting my money where my mouth is. I should really plant a flag in the sand and set a date in the not-too-distant future (like maybe early next year) beyond which I will simply refuse to use any site that implements the password anti-pattern …and delete any existing accounts.

Now, I wouldn’t mind doing this for LinkedIn, Digg or Facebook (I’ve already done it for Plaxo). I wouldn’t miss those sites. I don’t have any strong attachment to those sites. But I have a very strong attachment to Pownce and I would miss it very, very much if I were to delete my account there.

I’d also have to delete my Twitter account, which would probably feel like losing a limb. It’s not that I feel a strong emotional attachment to Twitter—using Twitter often feels like being in an abusive relationship with a Fail Whale—but it’s so pervasive that it would be like swearing off using email, or chat, or the telephone.

Besides, what difference would this grandstanding of mine do? I’m just one measly account. But if other people were to join me …well, perhaps that might affect the speed and priority of abandoning the password anti-pattern.

I could set up a Wiki, or something similar; somewhere where others could add their voice to the call to remove the password anti-pattern. It needn’t be wholly negative either: it could double up as a place for listing useful resources for developers who want to implement OAuth-style APIs.

So I have a few questions for you:

  1. Is this a good idea or am I tripping?
  2. Would you abandon sites that refuse to ditch the password anti-pattern?
  3. Do you know of any good, easy to implement Wiki software?

Plastics in the 20th Century – post WWII - a set on Flickr

I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.

Braseiko Transistor Wall Clock, 1960s

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Five CSS design browser differences I can live with | For A Beautiful Web

A great article by Malarkey wherein he lists five examples of progressive enrichment (as Dan is wont to call it) complete with side-by-side comparisons. Useful ammo, this.

YouTube - experiencewii's Channel

Nintendo break the third wall to advertise Wario Land.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

McSweeney's Internet Tendency: Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition).

Oh McSweeney's, does your satisfyingly smug brand of dry wit know no bounds?

arielwaldman wiki / space

Ariel has put together a list of 100 space-related Twitter accounts.

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Simon Wiffen - Acoustic Singer Songwriter from Leeds

Just for the record, this is a superb example of a bulletproof liquid layout: Simon Wiffen, solo acoustic singer-songwriter from Leeds.

FatBusinessman.com : On Authentication

David has written an excellent comparison of the two differing mindsets when approaching online authentication. In no uncertain terms, OAuth (or an OAuth style authentication) is right and the password anti-pattern is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Jan Chipchase - Future Perfect: Control Over Who You Want to Be

These thoughts on identity control reminded me of The Laughing Man from the first series of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (and not just because Jan Chipchase lives in Tokyo): "People like to manage and manipulate (with various degrees…

Design View / Andy Rutledge - USA.gov Redux

At first I thought that Andy Rutledge was trying to make some nuanced satirical point here but it turns out he's just a twunt.

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

The Invention of Air

I recently finished reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson; a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Steven was the keynote speaker at this year’s dConstruct where he ran through a lot of the themes covered in the book—cholera, data visualisation, bottom-up local knowledge—and tied them in with the work he’s doing at Outside.in.

The evening before the conference, the organisers and speakers gathered together for a meal at the excellent Pintxo People. Steven made it just in time, having arrived in Brighton after spending the day in Birmingham researching his next book. I prodded him for more information and he was happy to oblige…

The book is called The Invention of Air and it’s all about . But, Steven told me, this won’t be so much about his claim to fame as the discoverer of oxygen—a claim that could also be made by . Rather, The Invention of Air will highlight the fact that Priestley was the first person to make the connection between oxygen and plants. In a way, he could be seen as the father of the green movement.

The other forgotten factor of Priestley’s life is the profound impact he had on the Founding Fathers of the USA. Those idealists who drafted the constitution firmly believed in maintaining a strong connection between politics and science as well as a strong separation between politics and religion. Compare and contrast with the United States of today.

All in all, it sounds like it’s going to be another great mashup of historical storytelling and long zoom thinking. The Invention of Air is will be published in December, 02008.*

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Camille Seaman Photography -The Last Iceberg Series II - NEW, The Last Iceberg, A Penguin's Life - NEW, The Big Cloud - NEW

Camille Seaman's stunning pictures of icebergs and clouds make me feel small and insignificant. But in a good way.

Flickr: National Maritime Museum's Photostream

Flickr Commons just keeps growing and growing. Now there are wonderful collections of pictures from Greenwich available for us all to peruse and tag.

Pattern Tap : Interface Collection for Design Inspiration

Collections of visual design patterns from web interfaces.

The Art of Jim Denevan

The circlemakers work with vegetation. Andy Goldsworthy works with the landscape. Jim Denevan works with sand.

Ethan Hein | Player1Ready

Judging from the research information collected on Delicious, Flickr and Last.fm, this book proposal—tying together informatics, music and games—could blossom into a great read.

Networks - a set on Flickr

A collection of network diagrams and visualisations from the simple to the sublime.

Layers of abstraction

David Maisel :: Photography :: Works (Fine Art)

The beautiful work of David Maisel, including Library of Dust: “. . . these canisters hold the cremated remains of patients from an American psychiatric hospital. Oddly reminiscent of bullet casings, the canisters are literal gravesites. Reacting …

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Typechart - Browse Web Type, Grab CSS.

A handy little tool that's beautifully designed. View typeface/style/size combinations and then grab the CSS.

Twitter is Penis

Taking innocent tweets and replacing the nouns with the word "penis".

SHOUTS & MURMURS: My Gal: Humor: The New Yorker

This article by George Saunders had me giggling from start to finish.

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Self loathing for Sumo

I’m such a blogwhore.

I was contacted a while back by the people who make Sumo chairs asking if I wanted an Omni. All I had to do in return was blog about it—just like Cameron did.

This is just the sort of slightly sleazy marketing ploy that gets Tom so upset. And I agree with him. But, the thing is, Jessica and I were talking about getting a beanbag anyway. With that in mind, this Faustian bargain was just too hard to resist.

So here goes…

It’s a nice chair; quite comfy. But the outside material, though easy to clean, is a bit synthetic for my taste. I prefer more organic, cosy materials in my home. Still, the Omni would be perfect for the office. If you’re planning to get one for your home, think about getting the Omni Plus which has a microsuede covering.

Okay, that’s that taken care of. If you don’t respect me in the morning, I’ll understand.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been sent goodies in the post. Nokia lent me a pre-sale trial version of their N78 phone but they didn’t demand a blog post in return. That’s just as well because the phone turned out to be a piece of unintuitive crap. It doesn’t matter how many features you pack into a device—WiFi, GPS, what have you—if the hardware and software interface requires a degree in puzzle-solving, it’s a useless lump of plastic. The iPhone has shown us that we don’t have to put up with crappy mobiles any more …and I don’t even have an iPhone.

I feel slightly guilty badmouthing a freebie. Not only did Nokia send me a shiny toy, they also offered to fly me over to Helsinki for last week’s workshops. I couldn’t afford to take the time off work and anyway, far more capable people than I were in attendance: Ms. Jen, Rebecca and Micki to name just three.

Judging from the evidence on Flickr, an enjoyable and productive time was had by all. And, if my eyes don’t deceive me, I do believe …yes, I think those are Sumo chairs that everyone was lounging around on.

Update: Nope, Rebecca says those beanbags are Fatboys.

glossy

A startlingly lovely little short advertising the Getty Center.

isolani - Javascript: @Media Ajax - Day one

Mike has published his notes from day one of @media Ajax in London.

minimalsites | minimal design css gallery

A gallery of minimally designed websites. There are some lovely grid/type-based designs on view here.

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

On Nails, Lipstick, and Redesigns — Unstoppable Robot Ninja

Ethan has redesigned. It's shiny and beautifully proportioned.

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Flickr Services: Flickr API: flickr.places.placesForUser

This new Flickr API method makes it really easy to get a list of visited places for a Flickr user.

Tetris with jQuery

A decent version of Tetris written using jQuery.

volition (13 September, 2008, Interconnected)

A wonderful short story by Matt Webb, who is clearly still thinking about movement (his theme from Web Directions North earlier this year).

Friday, September 12th, 2008

suda.co.uk/projects/microformats [Moo Stickers]

Thanks to Brian and the Moo API, you can know print your own microformats stickers.

Apple - Accessibility

Apple have gathered all their resources about accessibility into one handy site. I sense the work of James Craig.

Typography for Lawyers

Trying to teach legibility, one legal document at a time.

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

5 Questions for Kevin Meredith « Flickr Blog

Brighton's own Lomokev gets interviewed by Flickr.

Thoughts for an eleventh September: Alvin Toffler, Hirohito, Sarah Palin « Adam Greenfield’s Speedbird

I should be depressed and dispirited after reading this, but the sheer quality of the writing gives me hope.

BrianOberkirch.com – Oh, You Wanted the Douchy Web?

Brian says what we're all thinking (or rather, what we would all be thinking if we actually wasted valuable brain cells thinking about TechC*nt).

Beauty at BarCamp Brighton

As soon as dConstruct was over, it was time for the next wonderful gathering of geeks: BarCamp Brighton 3.

I didn’t manage to make it to the event for the kick-off, having spent the previous evening celebrating at the after-party and after-after-party that my talk was really over and done with. That meant that I missed some of the early speaking slots but I still managed to see some great talks (including Nat’s excellent IE6 bug-squashing quiz) and spend a pleasant evening playing CSS Specificity Snap and Semantopoly.

Despite the fact that the venue boasted eight separate locales for giving talks, speaking slots were at a premium, which is a testament to the enthusiasm of the attendees. I managed to grab a spot towards the end of the day two. My presentation was very hastily prepared—in fact, I was preparing it while giving continuous partial attention to Rebecca and Jessica’s excellent presentations.

I gave a short talk called The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, an appellation once applied to Hedy Lamarr. I figured that my fellow geeks would enjoy the story of her oft-overlooked contribution to technology.

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Getting Semantic With Microformats, Part 1: rel ~ A Blog Not Limited

A great article by Emily Lewis on the microformats that make use of the rel attribute (rel-tag, rel-license, XFN, etc.).

BBC World Service - Find A Programme - Digital Planet

The BBC were at dConstruct. This podcast episode includes interviews with Steven Johnson, Aleks and the the Dopplr Matts.

YDN UK at dConstruct (Yahoo! Developer Network Blog)

A write-up of dConstruct 2008 from the YDN crew who so kindly co-sponsored the closing party.

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

post-dConstruct

dConstruct is over for another year. I think everyone is in agreement that this was the best one yet. The parties were full of WIN, the venue was great and the speakers were on top form. Admittedly, the weather was crap but that’s somewhat beyond our control.

Some of the attendees have posted their thoughts and summaries of the event:

Although I spent most of the day fretting about closing the conference, I was able to pay enough attention to notice that all of the talks were excellent, from Steven Johnson’s long-zoom view of bottom-up local knowledge to the Dopplr guys completely owning the stage and the audience with their dynamic double act.

Then I delivered my talk.

As predicted, it divided opinion. But I was surprised by the amount of people who really, really liked it. I was expecting a 50/50 division but it seemed more like an 80/20 split between positive and negative reactions.

Some of my favourites include Dan Griffiths saying diabolical final session and James Tenniswood remarking My ass has gone to sleep. So bored by the last speaker at dconstruct. Later, Andy Hume betrayed his lack of faith when he said Jeremy very nearly wrecked the day with a talk that was all too close to slipping up it’s[sic] own arse for the first ten minutes. The universal reaction at the start, according to Twitter, was Where the hell is he going with this? But by the end I think I managed to get my point across, namely always listen to Donald Rumsfeld.

The audio from the talk will be available soon. In the meantime, you can read the hypertext or download the slides.

Personally, I had a blast delivering my presentation. All of my nervousness evaporated once I was on stage and for half an hour I tried to convey the sense of wonder I was trying to encapsulate when I said:

The spirit of the beehive and the ghost in the machine are one and the same.

To those who didn’t like my pretentious wank …ah well, that’s understandable and you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

To those who took the time to tell me that you liked The System of the World, thank you very much indeed.

The System Of The World

The closing keynote from dConstruct 2008 in Brighton.

Monday, September 8th, 2008

MoreCowbell.dj

Because you can never have too much cowbell.

dConstruct 2008 notes | AlastairC

Alastair's comprehensive notes from dConstruct.

Wiretap Follies

The latest project from by Joshua Green Allen aka Fireland.

A new design | Clagnut § Blogging · Information design · Clagnut news

Richard has launched the redesign he's had bubbling away for a while now. 'Tis lovely and gridilicous.

BBC NEWS | Technology | Where do you think you are?

BBC coverage of dConstruct on "The widening web of location-based web services."

kev/null - Facebook Has License to Sell Your Photos

Kevin points out why you might want to keep your pictures on Flickr rather than Facebook. Like you needed a reason.

Planet Douche : Attus Apparel - Threaded for Liberation

Popping one collar is pretty gay. Popping 3 or 4 collars is super gay. Popping 24 collars ...that shit is hot.

Friday, September 5th, 2008

pre-dConstruct

It’s D-Day in Brighton. In just a few more hours, dConstruct will commence at the Brighton Dome. Twitter is all a-twitter as the geek invasion reaches critical mass.

It’s wonderful having so many friends descend on Brighton in one go. It seems like half of the UK geek scene and a goodly portion of San Francisco are already here. As you can imagine, things have been pretty busy at Clearleft Towers. We just successfully wrapped up two days of workshops and now it’s time for the main event.

I’m feeling a distinct mix of nervousness and excitement. I think the line-up looks pretty awesome (it’s basically our dream conference come to life) but that last name on the bill has got me worried. I’m supposed to close the show. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks fretting and freaking out but, bit by bit, my talk has come together. I have a feeling that some people will really like it but others will definitely hate it.

This won’t be my usual technology-focused kind of talk. There will be no word of Ajax, markup or microformats. Instead, I’m going to try to boil down years of studying into less than 45 minutes. If I can just convey some of the excitement that I feel about this stuff, I’ll be happy.

In the meantime, I hope I can get some sleep before the big day kicks off. It feels like the night before Christmas …but a Christmas that involves a paralysing public appearance in front of 800 of my peers.

Monday, September 1st, 2008

‘Organizing Our Marvellous Neighbours’

Joe's new book will be ready soon. I expect nothing less than the finest wittertainment.

For A Beautiful Web | Creative web site design and development training and workshops

Malarkey has launched his latest project: For A Beautiful Web is a series of web design master class training workshops covering topics including visual design for the web, best-practice XHTML mark-up and CSS, Microformats and practical web access…