Facing up to Fonts | Slides and notes
The slides from Richard's superb Skillswap presentation.
The slides from Richard's superb Skillswap presentation.
In the preface to my book DOM Scripting, the first of my acknowledgments is a
In these days of RESTful APIs, there are even more sources to be viewed. Whilst deconstructing a message from the oracle of Fielding, Paul gives some straightforward advice on being true to the ideals of REST, including this:
Above all, don’t kill the bookmarking experience and testing with bog-standard, service-ignorant browsers.
Replace the word “testing” with “viewing source” and that single sentence encapsulates the baseline support I expect from a web browser.
In recent years, the bookmarking aspect has been suffering not through any fault of the browsers but because of overzealous use of Ajax and through the actions of developers using POST when they should be using GET.
Equally worrying, I’ve noticed that the second piece of functionality—viewing source—is also under threat in some circumstances. Here the problem lies with the web browser, specifically Safari. Entering the URL for an RSS file, or following a hypertext reference to an RSS file, will not display the contents of that resource. Instead, Safari attempts to be “smart” and reformats the resource into a nicely presented document.
Now, I understand the reasoning for this. Most people don’t want to be confronted with a page of XML elements. But the problem with Safari’s implementation is that it breaks its own View Source functionality. Viewing source on a reformatted RSS feed in Safari will display the HTML used to present the feed, not the feed itself. Firefox 3 offers a better compromise. Like Safari, it reformats RSS feeds into a readable presentation in the browser. But crucially, if you view source, you will see the original RSS …the source.
I’ll leave you with some writings on the importance of View Source through the ages:
Vint Cerf announces M-Lab: an excellent resource which will allow people to find out if and how their internet access is being throttled. Viva l'internet!
I’ve found that releasing my Flickr pictures under a Creative Commons licence has been very rewarding. My pictures have been used in all sorts of places and most people are kind enough to drop me a line and let me know when they use one of my photos. Say, for example, that the site More Than Living wanted to illustrate the article entitled What is a manbag? with a very fetching picture of Richard.
By far the most prolific example was when one of my pictures was used in Iron Man. That story must have resonated with a lot of people because it spread far and wide; as far as some national newspapers in Spain. After the hubbub died down a bit, I was contacted by Jennifer Cassidy, a graphic design student in Dublin. She’s writing a thesis on Creative Commons licensing and asked if I would answer some questions for her. Amazingly, I actually responded (those who know me and my lackadaisical attitude to e-fail—or anyone who’s ever written to me expecting a reply—will appreciate how unusual that is).
Here are her questions and my answers.
I’m not really sure. It might have been when I came across Cory Doctorow’s novel Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, which was released under a Creative Commons licence. That was published in 2003.
Clarity. Creative Commons sets out quite clearly what uses are and aren’t allowed. That dispels a lot of doubt and uncertainty. Under standard copyright, it isn’t nearly as clear-cut as to what usage is and isn’t permitted. Given this uncertainty, I think most people assume that any kind of reuse is breaking copyright law (even in countries where situations like “fair use” are, in fact, permitted).
“All Rights Reserved” is a very blunt, black and white decree. That simply doesn’t map to most copyright holders’ view of their work. There’s a world of difference between somebody ripping off your work in order to resell it and somebody making a single copy of your work for educational purposes. “Some Rights Reserved” provides a good middle ground. A non-commercial licence, for example, clearly covers the use cases I’ve just outlined. If the only alternative to “All Rights Reserved” were “No Rights Reserved”, that would not satisfy most copyright holders (although some people do indeed relinquish their work into the public domain).
Absolutely. The irony is that the Free Culture movement is viewed as some kind of modern, radical idea when, in fact, it’s more like a return to the natural state of culture as a shared commons. Traditional Irish music is a good example of this shared culture. The very recent addition of copyright into this mix hasn’t gelled well with the older system. I view the Free Culture movement as a return to a more comfortable human-centred system. In the long term, the twentieth century might just be an aberrant blip on the cultural timeline. Or, if the Free Culture movement fails, the twentieth century might be seen as the time when culture began to wither and die, asphyxiated by the choke-hold of de-facto copyright in perpetuity.
To be honest, my initial reasons were quite selfish. I often received emails from people who wanted to use a photo of mine for some minor use; to illustrate a blog post, for example. Those people had to wait for me to reply and tell them that that would be fine. But I’m terrible at writing back to people (as you know) so I had a constant feeling of guilt that I hadn’t replied to somebody. By releasing my pictures under a Creative Commons attribution licence, I’m making it clear that anybody is free to reuse my work as long as they provide a credit. Mind you, I still get emails from some people asking me if they can have permission to use one of my pictures but now at least I don’t feel guilty for not getting back to them.
Yes, when I speak at conferences—usually on the subject of web design—I publish the presentations under a Creative Commons attribution licence. I now regret that some older works of mine were published under more restrictive licensing. I’ve written two books and I wish that I could distribute the contents of those books more widely but the contracts I signed with the book publishers prevent that (for now).
Completely. And although I’m personally committed in the area of Free Culture, the success of a Science Commons is potentially the greater achievement. The World Wide Web was created to facilitate shared scientific work. The technology is now in place. Now it’s just a question of how long it takes legal systems to catch up.
Definitely not. Creative Commons licensing isn’t anti-copyright. Quite the opposite; it clarifies copyright and permitted usage. I am, however, against prohibitively long copyright terms. Copyright extension is inexorably leading to copyright in perpetuity, something that goes completely against the spirit in which the idea of copyright was first formulated.
You took the words right out of my mouth …which is permitted …as long as you include attribution.
I’ve made copious use of Creative Commons licensed Flickr photos in my presentations (which are themselves released under a Creative Commons licence). I’ve also used Creative Commons licensed music—sometimes called podsafe music—in my forays into podcasting.
I do believe that but I don’t have any empirical evidence to support that view so that’s simply personal belief. However, there’s good evidence to suggest that restrictive licensing and prohibitively long copyright terms almost certainly lead to lost opportunity. So more sharing would at least provide a better ecosystem for society to flourish in.
I would love to say that I share my work for some greater good but I’d be lying. The truth is that an attribution licence is great for my ego. I can keep track of my pictures and boast about all the different places they show up. I’m such an attention whore.
I think it’s the greatest gift that musicians could ask for. Instead of being beholden to an industry of middlemen, musicians can now provide their music directly to the people who appreciate it.
I think it’s a great avenue for musicians to explore. Again, the real value is in the nuanced licensing that Creative Commons affords. If a band wants to release their music and allow it to be remixed or even resold, they can specify that. On the other hand, if a band wants to allow their music to be downloaded but not reused, they can specify that too.
I think that there’s a disparity between creators and distributors. Most authors simply want their writing to reach as many people as possible and make a living from it. The publishing industry, on the other hand, is concerned purely with the money-making aspect: wide distribution is seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The same applies in the music industry. The priority for most musicians is to get their music out to as many people as possible. But the music industry is geared around profit. There’s nothing wrong with that—all industry is based on making money. But it’s disingenuous to suggest that restrictive licensing protects the creators of cultural works. More often than not, draconian copyright enforcement protects existing industries that are built upon the works of others. These kind of industries often present a slightly schizophrenic adversarial attitude, treating their own customers as potential criminals. I don’t think that’s a healthy relationship. Suspicion breeds suspicion. Conversely, respect breeds respect.
This addition to Firebug is rather excellent: a built in reference for whatever you're inspecting.
A look at different font stacks out there in the wild.
The text adventure version of Guitar Hero.
Glenn has created a screencast of his superb Skillswap presentation, syncing up the audio with the slides.
Ben shares his hopes for the coming year in microformats.
After I wrote about the hoops I had to jump through to get Amazon’s API to output JSON (via XSLT), Tom detailed a way of avoiding JSON by using XML-RPC. That’s very kind of him but the truth is that:
Anyway, having successfully created a Huffduffer-Amazon bridge using machine tags, I thought I’d do a little more hacking. Instead of restricting the mashup love to Amazon, I figured that Last.fm would be the perfect place to pull in information for anything tagged with the
Last.fm has quite a full-featured API and yes, it can output JSON. To start with, I’m using the
artist.getInfo method for anything tagged with
music:band=.... Here are some examples:
I’m pulling a summary of the artist’s bio, a list of similar artists and a picture of the artist in question. For maximum effect, view in Safari, the browser with the finest implementation of CSS3’s
Nice as Last.fm’s API is, it’s not without its quirks. Like most APIs, the methods are divided into those that require authentication (anything of a sensitive nature) and those that don’t (publicly available information). The method
user.getInfo requires authentication. Yet, every piece of information returned by that method is available on the public profile.
So when I wanted to find a Last.fm user’s profile picture—having figured out through Google’s Social Graph API when someone on Huffduffer has a Last.fm account—it made far more sense for me to use hKit to parse the microformatted public URL than to use the API method.
Just over two years ago, Drew delivered a superb presentation called Can Your Website Be Your API? In some situations, the answer is definitely “Yes.”
Update: It all ties together, as Julian explains on Twitter:
@adactio ha, I went to Drew’s presentation you mentioned on your blog; it made me add microformats to Last.fm in the first place :D
Gez lays out the case for and against keeping the alt attribute mandatory in HTML5. If he's missed anything, add a comment.
Information Graphics about WWII for WWII magazine and for the book proposal "A Visual Miscellany of World War II".
"Now, there are signs â€œRADIOACTIVITYâ€� written with big white letters on the approaching paths to the structure but they donâ€™t stop the abandoned exotics lovers."
Good news everyone: Douglas is back! Yay!
A nice way to play around with Google's APIs. Example code is provided which you can edit and immediately see the results.
A superb article by Bryan Rieger on designing for multiple screen sizes. The closing section makes it clear that if you care about mobile, you'd better get comfortable with liquid layouts fast.
Over the weekend I was looking at the latest additions to Huffduffer. I noticed that Xavier Roy was using machine tags to tag a reading by Richard Dawkins. What an excellent idea!
I set aside a little time to do a little hacking with Amazon’s API. Now you can tag stuff on Huffduffer with machine tags like
book:title=the invention of air or
music:artist=my morning jacket. Other namespaces are
movie. Anything matching that pattern will trigger a search on Amazon and display a list of results.
Amazon’s API was one of the first I ever messed about with, first on The Session and later on Adactio Elsewhere. There are things I really like about it and things I really dislike.
I dislike the fact that there’s no option to receive JSON instead of XML. However, one of the things I like is the option to pass the URL of an XSL file to transform the XML (I wish more APIs offered that service). So even though JSON isn’t officially offered, it’s perfectly feasible to generate JSON from the combination of XML + XSL. That’s what I did for the Huffduffer hacking—I find it a lot easier to deal with JSON than XML in PHP5. If you fancy doing something similar, help yourself to my XSL file. It’s very basic but it could make a decent starting point.
But the thing I dislike the most about the Amazon API is the documentation. It’s not that there’s a lack of documentation. Far from it. It’s just not organised very well. I find it very hard to get the information I need, even when I know that the information is there somewhere. Flickr still leads the pack when it comes to API documentation. Amazon would do well to take a leaf out of Flickr’s documentation book (hope you’re listening, Jeff).
Sue Schofield plugs Ada Lovelace Day while taking a long hard look at the sniggering sexism endemic to the IT industry.
Jackson's lovely new site ...written in HTML5.
The details of Tom's hardware hack at PaperCamp: an old-school printer receipt printer hooked up via arduino.
Background material for Watchmen.
Chris Heathcote's notes from his PaperCamp talk on guidebooks.
Pride and Prejudice told through Facebook.
Cats. Reading. Once again, it's all about the cumulative effect.
This could prove to be very useful in the event of future Pownce/Jaiku implosions.
I had a good browse through "Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008" at PaperCamp. It's lovely.
A little Twitter app from Christian ...that doesn't ask for your password.
I mentioned to Brian on IM that he *totally* had to make this single serving site. Within in an hour, he had the domain and the site up an running. "Just need to do the RSS feed," he said.
Follow the adventure of this group of artists from around the world, in a Japanese fold Moleskine sketchbook exchange.
I’m up in London for PaperCamp. I arrive late to find Aaron Straup Cope in full flow. I saw Aaron at XTech two years ago talking about the idea of the papernet. Here we are today having a whole event devoted to it. His talk today sets the scene nicely, packed full of ideas.
Tom Taylor has an awesome analogue mashup. He bought a cheap little till printer, the small dinky kind that is used for printing off shop receipts. As he put it,
If A4 is a blog, this is Twitter. He has hooked it up to an arduino board which connects to his computer which is connected to the internet. That’s the hardware side of the things. The software side of things is pretty simple. Every day at 8:00am, a programme pulls in data from various places: appointments from his calendar, the movements of his fellow travellers on Dopplr, and when Tower Bridge will be opening and closing (of course). This gets output to a queue and a few seconds later, that gets output—via the arduino board—to the till printer. Tom now has a small slip of paper with all the little reminders he might need for the day. It is, as I said, awesome. I want one.
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino is talking about making stuff with paper. But enough talk. Let’s actually make stuff. We are all seated around a table covered with paper, pens, scissors, tape, stanley knives and other tools. We have fifteen minutes to make either a piece of furniture, a building or an object we love. I don’t know what to build so I look up at the ceiling and start trying to build a scale model of it. It was fun.
Chris Heathcote loves guidebooks. Venice for Pleasure is the ur-guidebook, beautifully written. Wallpaper do guide books for people who live a clichéd designer lifestyle and take taxis everywhere. In Japan they have the concept of mooks: magazine books. They aren’t replaced every month; a new one comes out every month but you can buy the previous mooks too. Guidebooks are getting smaller which is a good thing. Chris tends to rip things out of his guidebooks—they tend to be for one-time use. He does the same with maps. Like Aaron said, you don’t want to be the tourist with the big map. Moleskine make notebooks with maps and tracing paper. And of course now, thanks to the papernet, you can make your own foldable maps, turkish or otherwise.
Nick O’Leary is talking about graphs. He wants to represent them with paper rather than simply on paper. He came up with some code that generates an image including lines showing where to fold and cut. Print it out, cut it and fold it and voila!, 3D graphs. He holds up an example. It’s beautiful. He wants to make a pop-up book of statistics. Absolutely bloody brilliant! This is data porn and paper porn rolled into one. Aaron asks if Nick has thought about applying this idea to creating topographical maps which, let’s face it, would be really, really handy for somewhere like San Francisco.
We break for lunch and a bunch of us gravitate towards a bar called Camino, the only place in the vicinity that shares its name with a web browser. Some of the people I know, some I don’t. The conversation turns to code and hacking. I start to mention one of my favourite hacks at HackDay, Above London. Turns out that the person sitting next to me is Paul Mison, one of the Above London hackers and also creator of the machine tag browser that I blogged about.
After lunch, Sascha Pohflepp talks about Export to World. This looks familiar. Ah yes, I remember this being presented as the dinner entertainment during Reboot last year. He’s been taking objects out of Second Life and modelling them in the real world.
Now everyone gathers around a laptop for a demo from Durrell Bishop and Tom Hulbert from Luckybite. They have a printed book based on their music collection. Each page of the book contains an image—usually an album cover—and a barcode. If you scan the barcode from a page in the book, the corresponding music will play on your computer (or your phone). The book is the UI. The wireless barcode reader is where the magic happens. If these guys can make a cheap version of this reader, it will fantastic …for all us. Right now the only expensive bit is the reading head but the price could come down as low as a dollar or two. Sign me up!
James Wheare now gives a quick demo. He’s making a daily physical lifestream. Overnight, it pulls in blog entries, Flickr pictures and twitter messages from his friends and in the morning, he prints out a foldable A4 page. He can fold this down into a little booklet to take with him when he leaves the house.
Karsten Schmidt begins by talking about print on demand. He shows beautiful computer-generated algorithm-driven book covers from Faber Finds. He then shows the most gorgeous unique identifiers I’ve ever seen. These are printed on to postcards for the end of year show at the London College of Fashion—one per student. These cards are machine readable at interactive tables. But what about generating machine-readable identifiers without using a machine? Right now you still need a computer and a printer. What if you could use origami instead? If you think about it, that’s what’s going on with Edward James Olmos’s unicorn in Bladerunner. Take a piece of paper, configure it in a certain way; now it contains a machine-readable message.
At this stage, my mind is well and truly blown and we aren’t even finished yet. Sawa Tanaka is now going to show some of her work. Here’s a book called Spot Nocturnal Animals which is all white in the daylight but once it gets dark, you can shine a UV light on the paper to expose animal tracks and information. The Egg Book uses thermochromic ink. When you warm it up—Sawa blows on the page at this point—baby birds are revealed. Here’s the missing piece of the papernet puzzle: edibility. Sawa has made edible prints on rice paper: English breakfast, fish’n’chips, soba …this is making me hungry. She has also created a beautiful box of pictures of Hiroshima with pictures from 1945 burnt onto pictures from 2007. Every one of her projects is wonderful.
Next up is Beeker Northam who speaks about photographing paper. She doesn’t like throwing away books. She photographs her books. There’s something about photographing them that’s different to scanning them. She’d like to have some kind of web-based way for people to share those bits of books that have had an emotional impact on them but she hasn’t found it yet. There are book sharing sites out there but they all take a library-based approach.
I’m up next. I feel bad because, not only do I not have a demo or prototype to show, I don’t even have any slides. All I have is an idea. And ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s following through that counts. But still …I’m using PaperCamp as a real-world LazyWeb; running an idea up the flagpole; opening the kimono; attempting a landing on the Hudson.
I had this idea a while back of doing a location-based audio service. I heard about a site that offered user-generated audio guides for museums. Download the MP3, stick it on your iPod, go to the museum and press play. I thought it would be good to do the same thing for any kind of location. For example, I could walk around Brighton recording my thoughts about the architecture or talking about the best restaurants, and then I could upload that audio file and geotag it so that somebody else can later retrace my steps and hear my words. The problem I’ve found with this idea is the lack of good recording devices. We have ubiquitous listening devices—iPods—but the ubiquitous devices we talk into—mobile phones—aren’t the right fit for this, I fear.
So the idea of location-based shared audio languished on the back burner. Then I saw Aaron speaking at XTech about the papernet and I begin to think that words on paper might be a better medium than words in headphones. Paper is compact, durable and portable. Then Moleskine came out with their city guides and that’s when I joined the dots: what I want is a guide book that grows over time. It could work something like Book Crossing, with people passing the notebooks along to the next person visiting a place. To begin with, the notebooks are sparse, containing only maps but then they get filled with notes, stories, tips and recommendations.
It strikes me that the internet is superb for communication and collaboration over distance: Wikipedia, Flickr, blogs …physical distance collapses completely. Meanwhile, the physical world has an emotional immediacy and tactile feel that can’t be captured online. I’d like to bridge those worlds using guidebooks as the glue: physical objects in the real world that benefit from the collaborative environment of the internet. I’m not sure if Moleskine city guides are necessarily the best vessels. That would limit the potential places to just those cities that have guidebooks. A print-on-demand book containing maps from OpenStreetMap, photos from Flickr places and text from Wikipedia could make for an equally good starting point as long as the physical dimensions are notebook-like.
That’s my idea. I can foresee some serendipitous side-effects growing out of this infrastructure—games and treasure hunts, perhaps—but I can also imagine some challenges—like co-ordinating the physical shipping of the books from person to person (maybe drop-off points are a better idea). Then there’s the fact that all this information that’s being accumulated is stuck in a physical object that isn’t machine-readable without some scanning and OCR—it seems a shame that the information can’t easily flow back from the real world onto the internet.
I’m done pitching my idea and ask what people think. Aaron says he wants to help me build this. Yay! He also says that my worries about getting the information from book to internet shouldn’t be too much of a cause for concern. I agree: it’s certainly not a show-stopper. Alex likes the idea of the time-sensitive nature of recording thoughts about a place; the places that you visited when you were in a relationship, for example, will be coloured by how you felt in that relationship. I hadn’t thought about that, but yes, these notebooks could be vessels for messages from your past self to your present or future self. Denise reckons that this might not even be a technological undertaking at all: she mentions a notebook of sketches that was simply passed from designer to designer, filling up over time. I think that’s largely true but there’s also great potential in the social aspect of sharing the books: I’m going to want notebooks that have previously been used by people I know or whose opinion I trust. But yes, fundamentally all I’m proposing is a web-based admin system for co-ordinating the sharing.
With that, I’m done. I hand the floor over to Matt Ward who closes the event with his thoughts about everything he’s seen today. Keywords are augmentation, materiality and craft-bioinformatic-origami-unicorns.
The other Matt finishes by thanking us all for coming and turning a drunken conversation in the pub into something that will keep him thinking for all of 2009. Hear, hear! Thank you, Mr. Jones, for organising this inspiring gathering.
Christopher Schmitt shows how to style XFN links using attribute selectors.
Bid farewell to IE6.
Yahoo's RESTful query language can now parse microformats. This is excellent news ...although I'm personally finding it tough to wrap my head around the documentation. It's certainly trickier than hKit but then, it's almost certainly more powerful too.
Jaiku is being shut down. So is Dodgeball (also known as
Where’s Tantek?). They’re going the way of I Want Sandy, Yahoo Live, Pownce and Ficlets.
But Ficlets is different. Although the name and the URL belong to AOL, all the stories belong to their respective authors—authors like Wil Wheaton. Even better, they’re licensed under Creative Commons attribution, share alike. So Kevin has managed to archive all the stories at a new home.
But don’t think of it as a museum piece. The idea of collaborative short fiction hypertext is just too good.
Ficlets is dead. Long live Ficly.
Dunstan put a Flip video on the end of a four foot long bamboo pole and attached it to himself to film his morning commute.
Almost two years ago, I was having a drink with Keith in The Alembic Bar on my last night in San Francisco:
Keith buys me a beer from the local microbrewery. I opt for an amber ale while he plumps for an IPA. After the first sips, we compare tasting notes and once again speculate about a beer-oriented version of Cork’d.
Well, like Tom says, everyone’s got ideas. It’s following through that counts. So that’s exactly what Blue Flavor have done. They built 97 Bottles:
97 bottles is a totally free, new service that lets you review, recommend, and learn about all kinds of beers. Use it to keep track of your favorite brews, find drinking buddies, and more.
It’s currently in private beta or, as they put in their nicely-crafted copy,
in the cask fermenting. But here’s the twist: if you have an OpenID you can sign in with that without waiting to be added to the list of beta testers. That’s smart. As Jeff put it:
It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. It’s OpenID evangelism!
So head on over and sign in with your OpenID. I’ve been kicking the tyres, adding some new beers to the site and reviewing existing ones. It’s a well-crafted social network: fun and useful.
All it needs is a little sprinkling of microformats.
A 5' x 10' Hoth base diorama consisting of between 55,000 to 60,000 pieces of LEGO and containing 50 real lights and a remote controlled device that can deploy troops from the AT-ATs.
A guide to using ARIA roles from the mighty Steve Faulkner.
I can't wait to get my personal annual report from Dopplr! In the meantime, I'll content myself with the very pretty example of Barack Obama's annual report.
Eric Reiss takes a stab at defining User Experience.
Okay, so the name of the site sounds a bit like the literature equivalent of Girls Gone Wild but why haven’t I come across this site before?
It’s a veritable huffduffing bonanza, with talks from Neal Stephenson, David Sedaris, Simon Winchester, Isabel Allende, Terry Pratchet, John Hodgman, Neil Gaiman, Barack Obama and …um… Les Claypool.
All of them are licensed under Creative Commons attribution, non- commercial, no derivatives.
Remy teaches non-techies how to use jQuery in a responsible way.
Cameron rounds up articles on HTML5 from 'round the web.
More clever meta web marketing.
Gravity's rainbow on a Google map.
A superb bit of browser research by Richard. "Thereâ€™s more to the lives of many typefaces than just Bold and Regular, but almost no browsers follow the proper CSS 1 way of specifying Light, Semibold, Black and other weights. There is a workaround,â€¦
Matt has organised PaperCamp for this weekend and I'll be heading along. Should be good fun.
A collection of Flash preloaders. Out of context, they make for surprisingly compelling viewing all together.
I’ve become a big Neal Stephenson fan over the years. Having a taste for cyberpunk and steampunk, I naturally enjoyed both Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. But what really surprised me was how much I enjoyed The Baroque Cycle.
At first I found it frustrating to read Quicksilver—I couldn’t keep track of all the characters and all the events. So I gave up even trying to follow it all. That’s when the book really opened up. I realised that, although it’s a rollicking good adventure, it’s mostly an immersive experience. As I made my way through The Confusion and The System Of The World, I started to really look forward to getting completely lost in the 17th Century.
I was genuinely sad when I finished the three books. I didn’t want them to end. So I was already anxious for the next Neal Stephenson book to come out even before I knew about the subject matter. When I heard that Anathem would be a novel of The Long Now—a subject that has been occupying my thoughts more and more lately—I started to get really excited.
Once I had the book in my hands—and, as usual with Stephenson’s books, the hardback takes two hands and a decent set of biceps—I started to devour it. It’s very different to The Baroque Cycle but equally engaging. Not only is it saturated in Long Now thinking, it even features a version of the clock. The obvious comparison to make would be with A Canticle For Leibowitz but the similarities start and end with the set up of a “priesthood” of knowledge. Anathem very quickly becomes a philosophical tower of ideas built brick by brick, chapter by chapter.
On the one hand, I was pleased by Stephenson’s consistency. Once again, he delivered the goods: a decent yarn, well told, with good—rarely great—pose. But what really delighted me was how different this tale is. Every time I thought I had figured out where the book was going, Stephenson would yank the metaphorical rug from under my feet …often at the very moment when I believed I was getting a handle on the direction of the narrative.
The book is set in its own internally-consistent invented world. The strangeness of this disappears quickly, much like the internally-consistent invented language in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. When new words are introduced in Anathem, it’s always for a good reason. For example, the concept of Occam’s razor is vital to a story driven by science and philosophy but that label would make no sense on a planet where William of Ockham has never existed. Instead we get “the Steelyard”, a different term with a different history, but capturing the same concept. This gradual layering of alternate vocabulary has a massive payoff later in the book when two simple words provide the most thrilling rug-pulling event of the whole reading experience.
As you may have gathered, I enjoyed Anathem. While it’s true that I didn’t enjoy it in the same way that I enjoyed The Baroque Cycle, it seems completely unfair to compare 17th Century apples with alien-world oranges.
Now that I’ve finished Anathem, I’m trying to avoid going cold turkey. It’s been years since I read Cryptonomicon so I figured I’d give it another whirl. I’m enjoying it immensely (again). I’m particularly savouring the story of WWII information warfare, like this little exchange on the fictional archipeligo of Qwghlm:
May I … know … to satisfy my own … curiosity … what sort of …?the Duke says, and trails off.
Waterhouse is ready for this. He is so ready that he has to hold back for a moment and try to make a show of discretion.Huffduff.
HFDF: High Frequency Direction Finding. A technique for locating distant radio transmitters by triangulating from several points.
Use TiltShiftMaker to easily transform your standard photos into fun tilt-shift style miniature pictures.
Twitter through the ages.
A thoughtful post from Ben on how the flow of OAuth, OpenID and Facebook Connect can be improved.
Organisers of BarCamps â€” and other geek gatherings â€” take note: Campaign Monitor will provide sponsorship in the shape of pizza and drink.
Clever or creepy? You decide.
This site needs some promotion. Maybe on Twitter.
A web browser for Android that detects microformats and allows direct actions with the data. The map integration is exactly the kind of thing I'd like to see on the iPhone.
A visual real-time simulation that displays the carbon dioxide (co2) emissions, birth rates, and death rates of every country in the world.
Four months after the curtain went down on dConstruct 2008, the final episode of the podcast of the conference has just been published. It’s the audio recording of my talk The System Of The World.
I’m very happy indeed with how the talk turned out: dense and pretentious …but in a good way, I hope. It’s certainly my favourite from the presentations I have hitherto delivered.
Feel free to:
The whole thing is licenced under a Creative Commons attribution licence. You are free—nay, encouraged—to share, copy, distribute, remix and mash up any of those files as long as you include a little attribution lovin’.
If you’ve got a Huffduffer account, feel free to huffduff it.
365 days of hand-drawn exemplars of dudeness.
A lovely article from Anna on friendship and the internet.
Heartfelt and moving: praise for those who sprinkle doses of humanity into software interfaces.
The spread of happiness, obesity and smoking habits through social networks.
A super-simple lightweight PHP class by Kellan for calling the Flickr API and receiving back an array of results.
A document outlining browser support standards for bbc.co.uk
Registration opened a couple of days ago for the latest Clearleft event. UX London will be taking place from June 15th to 17th. This will be a very different event to dConstruct.
For a start, the format is based around workshops (although there will also be a day of presentations). Then there’s the timescale: UX London will last for three days. Finally, there’s the intimacy factor. Whereas the attendance for dConstruct is somewhere between 700 and 800 people, UX London will be deliberately limited to around 150.
Our motivation for putting together this event was partly to bring a kick-ass UX here in the UK for a change. But mostly we wanted to put together the kind of event that we wanted to attend. So we drew up our dream line-up and incredibly, we got everyone we wanted: Dan Saffer, Jared Spool, Jeff Veen …and Don fucking Norman (excuse my French but I find it very hard to say
Don Norman will be speaking at UX London without interjecting some indication of my excitement).
Andy has written more about the event on his blog which has, over the past week, arisen from its deep slumber.
The site itself launched right before Christmas. Natalie and I did the front-end build and I’m pretty damned pleased with how it turned out. Behold the liquidy goodness!
We used this as an opportunity to really push what Dan has been calling
progressive enrichment: sprinkling in some modern CSS declarations even if not every browser gets all of them—something that Malarkey has been banging on about for quite a while now.
So if you view the UX London site in IE6 it looks fine. Nothing special though. But if you view the site in a browser like Safari, a lot of little details shine through. The design is pretty much a test-case for the
box-shadow property using RGBa. Depending on the browser width, multiple translucently shadowed elements can overlap and it’s interesting to see how browsers handle this (Safari’s additive approach seems correct to me).
On the markup side of things, we decided to write the site in HTML5. But wait! Isn’t HTML5 going to take another few decades before it’s finished?
Well, no. That little bit of bollocks was spread ‘round by people who misread the timeline, underestimating the importance of “working draft” and overestimating the importance of “proposed recommendation”. Admittedly, those are pretty confusing and unintuitive labels for
it’s ready and
it’s been finished for ages and now it’s 100% supported in at least two implementations.
It turns out that when it comes to the markup, HTML5 isn’t all that different to what has come before. It’s all the DOM gubbins—which should allow a more declarative approach to building web apps—that is the real hard stuff that requires browser support in order to work. If you’re not interested in that side of things, much of the HTML5 spec won’t even be relevant to you. For your convenience, Michael Smith has put together a markup-only version of the spec.
From a semantic perspective, the most important additions to the markup language are the structural elements such as
For the UX London site, we didn’t go quite that far. We stuck to using
class attributes for our structure. But we could still build on the work that has gone into the HTML5 structural elements. Rather than coming up with our own class names, we used the names proposed in the spec:
Now our document structure has pre-built documentation. Want to know what
class="article" denotes? RTFM.
Using HTML5 elements as a basis for a naming convention isn’t a new idea. Malarkey has written about developing naming conventions from HTML5. Jon Tan also wrote about preparing for HTML5 with semantic class names. Oli Studholme put both of those articles together to create a handy little structural cheatsheet. Use microformat class names for the small stuff; use HTML5 class names for the bigger stuff.
Apart from providing easier documentation, there’s another good reason to take this approach: interoperability. Think about how much easier user styling would be if sites shared many of the same class names. Even if you don’t think that they are the best class names—I know, for instance, that Malarkey doesn’t like the presentational smell of
footer—the benefits of an aggregate shared vocabulary could be very empowering. So if you do insist on creating a CSS framework that mandates using certain specific names (a concept I despise) please, please, please use those class names.
On the subject of user styling, there’s a site ID of
uxlondon-com on the UX London site. Huffduffer, another HTML5 site, has an ID of
huffduffer-com on every page. But rather putting these IDs on the
body element, it seems more meaningful to me to add them on the
html element itself.
A couple of weeks after the UX London site launched, another event site went live: the beautifully-redesigned An Event Apart. It’s also written in HTML5. Jeffrey has written about the design and Eric has written about the markup.
Huffduffer, UX London, An Event Apart and now The Watchmaker Project …there’s quite an exciting air of experimentation around using HTML5 right now. Personally, I’ve found it to be a fun way of breaking out and trying something new. I recommend giving it a whirl. Until recently you would have needed to use validator.nu to test your markup but now that’s been integrated into the W3C validator so all your old bookmarklets and tools will still work.
Even if you decide against writing in HTML5 itself, at least consider using those HTML5-inspired class names for your structural naming convention where appropriate.
The importance of providing predictive text for minority languages (including Irish). To help preserve languages, advocates are pushing to make more written languages available on cellphones.
Twitter's promotion of the password anti-pattern bites them on the ass.
This looks like being an excellentâ€”and freeâ€”resource "...meant to provide web application developers, browser engineers, and information security researchers with a one-stop reference to key security properties of contemporary web browsers."
A collection of tips, guidance, advice and practical suggestions in developing accessible websites
Twply is a straightforward little Twitter app that sends @replies to email. It uses the password anti-pattern. Oh, but don’t worry. It states quite clearly on the site that
Your password is safe with us. No worries!
up for sale . That means all those passwords are available to the highest bidder ($1200 in this case).
Sleep tight, Twply users. May you wake to a better day.
At the start of 2008, my past self wrote down a few resolutions for my future (now present) self:
Let’s take them one at time…
Yeah… um… so that didn’t really work out all that well. Yes, I did fit energy-efficient light bulbs. Also, I don’t drive a car. That’s something of which I am not just proud but downright smug. But I did end up doing a helluva lotta travelling. Some of that was offset—all the Web Directions conferences are carbon neutral, for example—but I’m still responsible for a lot of jet fuel. My Dopplr animal is a squirrel, for crying out loud!
Still, I made the most of all that travel. Thailand and Japan—both new destinations for me—were certainly highlights but I also loved getting back to San Francisco and any trip to Alaska is bound to be good.
This year I’ll be cutting down on my travel. No, really! I mean… of course I’ll be going to South By Southwest again and I will be speaking at An Event Apart in Boston in June but apart from that, I’ll be staying close to home. Honest.
Score! I did this. Twice. I would have done it more but all that travelling makes it hard—they don’t like you to donate if you’ve just come back from somewhere exotic like, oh, the USA. Apparently it’s just awash with the West Nile virus in Summertime.
Seriously though… please, please, please give blood. Not only will you be doing a great service but I guarantee it will restore your faith in humanity to see the cross-section of society there with you.
Alas, no. If anything, I might well be portlier now than I was this time a year ago. I need to start taking brisk walks along Brighton seafront and practising portion control in my food intake.
Yeah, we’ll see how that works out.
Again, no. I played plenty of bouzouki with the band but my proficiency with jigs’n’reels is lacking. Being in Ireland for Christmas, including two days in Galway, has been a timely reminder of just how much I love trad music. I need to maintain that enthusiasm throughout the year and maybe even get out to a session or two.
So that was my scorecard for 2008. One out of four.
Given this woeful result, rather than add or replace any resolutions, I’m going to carry them over into 2009. I’ll start fulfilling them tomorrow. Or maybe Monday.
Please don’t hate me, future self.
The five second test is a simple usability test that helps you measure the effectiveness of your user interfaces.