Monana county fair, near the Iowa/Nebraska border.
Saturday, July 31st, 2010
Thursday, July 29th, 2010
I'll be sitting in judgement on the entries to this neat competition which harks back to the good ol' days of 5k.org.
Soon the trilogy will be complete: a documentary on urban planning sounds like the perfect way for Gary Hustwit to follow up Helvetica and Objectified.
Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
A fascinating look at hypertext in illuminated manuscripts.
An excellent rebuttal by Steven Pinker to Nicholas Carr's usual trolling.
An all-in-one validator from the W3C: markup, CSS and feed validation.
Best. Robots.txt file. Ever.
Monday, July 26th, 2010
Facing the future
There is much hand-wringing in the media about the impending death of journalism, usually blamed on the rise of the web or more specifically bloggers. I’m sympathetic to their plight, but sometimes journalists are their own worst enemy, especially when they publish badly-researched articles that fuel moral panic with little regard for facts (if you’ve ever been in a newspaper article yourself, you’ll know that you’re lucky if they manage to spell your name right).
Exhibit A: an article published in The Guardian called How I became a Foursquare cyberstalker. Actually, the article isn’t nearly as bad as the comments, which take ignorance and narrow-mindedness to a new level.
Fortunately Ben is on hand to set the record straight. He wrote Concerning Foursquare and communicating privacy. Far from being a lesser form of writing, this blog post is more accurate than the article it is referencing, helping to balance the situation with a different perspective …and a nice big dollop of facts and research. Ben is actually quite kind to The Guardian article but, in my opinion, his own piece is more interesting and thoughtful.
Exhibit B: an article by Jeffrey Rosen in The New York Times called The Web Means the End of Forgetting. That’s a bold title. It’s also completely unsupported by the contents of the article. The article contains anecdotes about people getting into trouble about something they put on the web, and—even though the consequences for that action played out in the present—he talks about
the permanent memory bank of the Web and writes:
The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities.
Bollocks. Or, to use the terminology of Wikipedia,
Rosen presents his premise — that information once posted to the Web is permanent and indelible — as a given. But it’s highly debatable. In the near future, we are, I’d argue, far more likely to find ourselves trying to cope with the opposite problem: the Web “forgets” far too easily.
Exactly! I get irate whenever I hear the
the web never forgets presented without any supporting data. It’s right up there with
eskimos have fifty words for snow and
people in the middle ages thought that the world was flat. These falsehoods are irritating at best. At worst, as is the case with the myth of the never-forgetting web, the lie is downright dangerous. As Rosenberg puts it:
I’m a lot less worried about the Web that never forgets than I am about the Web that can’t remember.
That’s a real problem. And yet there’s no moral panic about the very real threat that, once digitised, our culture could be in more danger of being destroyed. I guess that story doesn’t sell papers.
This problem has a number of thorns. At the most basic level, there’s the issue of link rot. I love the fact that the web makes it so easy for people to publish anything they want. I love that anybody else can easily link to what has been published. I hope that the people doing the publishing consider the commitment they are making by putting a linkable resource on the web.
As I’ve said before, a big part of this problem lies with the DNS system:
Domain names aren’t bought, they are rented. Nobody owns domain names, except ICANN.
I’m not saying that we should ditch domain names. But there’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that thinks about domain names in time periods as short as a year or two.
Then there’s the fact that so much of our data is entrusted to third-party sites. There’s no guarantee that those third-party sites give a rat’s ass about the long-term future of our data. Quite the opposite. The callous destruction of Geocities by Yahoo is a testament to how little our hopes and dreams mean to a company concerned with the bottom line.
We can host our own data but that isn’t quite as easy as it should be. And even with the best of intentions, it’s possible to have the canonical copies wiped from the web by accident. I’m very happy to see services like Vaultpress come on the scene:
Your WordPress site or blog is your connection to the world. But hosting issues, server errors, and hackers can wipe out in seconds what took years to build. VaultPress is here to protect what’s most important to you.
We need one or more institutions that can manage electronic trusts over very long periods of time.
The institutions need to be long-lived and have the technical know-how to manage static archives. The organizations should need the service themselves, so they would be likely to advance the art over time. And the cost should be minimized, so that the most people could do it.
It’s what my technology friends call a non-trivial task, for all kinds of technical, social and legal reasons. But it’s about as important for our future as anything I can imagine. We are creating vast amounts of information, and a lot of it is not just worth preserving but downright essential to save.
There’s an even longer-term problem with digital preservation. The very formats that we use to store our most treasured memories can become obsolete over time. This goes to the very heart of why standards such as HTML—the format I’m betting on—are so important.
Mark Pilgrim wrote about the problem of format obsolescence back in 2006. I found his experiences echoed more recently by Paul Glister, author of the superb Centauri Dreams, one of my favourite websites. He usually concerns himself with challenges on an even longer timescale, like the construction of a feasible means of interstellar travel but he gives a welcome long zoom perspective on digital preservation in Burying the Digital Genome, pointing to a project called PLANETS: Preservation and Long-term Access Through Networked Services.
Their plan involves the storage, not just of data, but of data formats such as JPEG and PDF: the equivalent of a Rosetta stone for our current age. A box containing format-decoding documentation has been buried in a bunker under the Swiss Alps. That’s a good start.
David Eagleman recently gave a talk for The Long Now Foundation entitled Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization. Step two is
Don’t lose things:
As proved by the destruction of the Alexandria Library and of the literature of Mayans and Minoans, “knowledge is hard won but easily lost.”
I’m worried that we’re spending less and less time thinking about the long-term future of our data, our culture, and ultimately, our civilisation. Currently we are preoccupied with The Long Now Foundation and Tau Zero Foundation offer a much-needed sense of perspective.
As with that other great challenge of our time—the alteration of our biosphere through climate change—the first step to confronting the destruction of our collective digital knowledge must be to think in terms greater than the local and the present.
Yes! Yes! Yes! An excellent fisking of that ridiculous New York Times article that confused problems in the present with data longevity.
Dan Gilmore, reporting from a conference on digital preservation. I should pay attention to this
The website of the Yahoo accessibility team.
Sunday, July 25th, 2010
This article needs a great big "citation needed" slapped on it. Yes, people need to think about what they post on the web, but no, that stuff will not stay around "forever." If anything, the web suffers from the opposite problem: memory loss.
A great Fisking by Ben of (very silly, IMHO) morally panicked Guardian article on Foursquare.
Friday, July 23rd, 2010
By far the best use of an iPad I've seen.
Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Frances takes issue with the hgroup element in HTML5.
Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
You’ve either poured weeks, months or even years of your life into bringing a product or a service into the world, or you haven’t.
He finishes with:
And the next time someone produces an antenna with a weak spot, or a sticky accelerator, you’re more likely to feel their pain, listen to their words and trust their actions than the braying media who have never shipped anything in their lives.
I’d suggest the opposite is in fact the case: the trouble is that media ships constantly, and therefore becomes inured to the difficulties and delicacies of launching a product of any size or scale.
It’s an excellent point, which Tom readily concedes.
People often think that editors are there to read things and tell people “no.” Saying “no” is a tiny part of the job. Editors are first and foremost there to ship the product without getting sued. They order the raw materials—words, sounds, images—mill them to approved tolerances, and ship.
It’s a rather spiffing conversation and it’s fascinating to see the ideas get bounced around from blog to blog. Notice that none of those blogs allow comments. I’m pretty sure that if they did have comments, the resulting conversation wouldn’t have been nearly as good. As I’ve said before:
I don’t think we should be looking at comments to see conversations. It isn’t much of a conversation when the same person determines the subject matter of every dialogue. The best online conversations I’ve seen have been blog to blog: somebody posts something on their blog; somebody else feels compelled to respond on their own blog. The quality of such a response is nearly always better than a comment on the originating blog for the simple reason that people care more about what appears on their own site than on someone else’s.
But how can we keep track of the conversation? I hear you cry.
I don’t think there’s any one particular technological solution to that problem but the combination of RSS, Delicious, Twitter and other linking tools seem to be doing a pretty decent job. If you dig down deep enough, they’re all using the same fundamental technology: the
a element and the
It’s messy and it’s chaotic but it’s also elegant …because it works. Seeing these kinds of distributed conversations makes me very happy indeed that Tim Berners-Lee shipped his product.
A one-day event in London in September on the topic of accessibility, with a focus on motor impairment.
Paul Ford sets the record straight on what editors do.
Monday, July 19th, 2010
A very handy looking API that turns file uploading (and conversion) into a service.
Cute wearable typography snobbery.
Sunday, July 18th, 2010
I don’t usually get all that excited about forthcoming films, but ever since seeing the first trailer for Inception I’ve been like a kid at Christmas time. Everything about it looked like it was going to press all my buttons.
I went to see it on its first day of release at the lovely Duke of York’s cinema. It didn’t disappoint. If anything, it exceeded my ludicrously high expectations.
The structure of the film is that of a heist movie, but if the film were to be slotted into a genre, that genre would have to be science fiction. Personally, I would say it’s cyberpunk. But it’s a strange kind of cyberpunk where the emphasis is less on technology and more on the film-noir mood and transcendental possibilities of the genre.
In fact, technology in Inception is notable by its absence. There is a piece of hardware to enable the central premise of the film, but it’s of no more importance than the hardware used in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind—the last great science fiction film to cover similar territory.
Both films also avoid making any reference to specific dates. We assume that the narrative plays out in the very near future but we’re never explicitly told that. It strikes me that both films are attempting to place the action in a kind of continuous present.
Inception is particularly adept at avoiding anything that would date the film. Nothing dates a story quite like technology. William Gibson has remarked on numerous occasions that the glaring omission of cell phones in Neuromancer dates the book to the 1980s …although younger people assume that the omission is a deliberate plot point.
Computers make no appearance in Inception. The unstoppable momentum of Moore’s Law means that this year’s cutting edge laptop may appear laughably out of date by the time the film is available on DVD (and my reference to a specific storage medium like DVD dates these words).
Christopher Nolan goes further and avoids the use of digital input and output devices: the mouse, the keyboard, the screen (either LCD or cathode ray) …all of these things anchor a narrative to a specific period. Instead, there is almost a fetishisation of the analogue. When we see people planning and prototyping in Inception, it is with paper and cardboard rather than any computer-aided design tools.
It’s slightly jarring when the occasional piece of technology appears on the screen, such as an electronic key card for a hotel room door, or the electronic fingerprinting device used at American airports.
Analogue objects age too, of course, but the rate of ageing is slower. To borrow a term from architecture—and boy, is Inception a fun film from that perspective—the analogue and the digital are different shearing layers:
The Shearing layers concept views buildings as a set of components that evolve in different timescales.
Sound familiar? It’s a concept that’s at the heart of Inception’s dream logic: the idea that the passage of time slows down within a dream, allowing a far longer narrative to play out in a dream world than in the faster-moving “reality” of the dreamer.
Inception takes pains to use the medium- to long-term obsolescence of physical objects: trains, planes, cars, guns and—above all—buildings. The film neatly sidesteps the inevitable timestamp that electronic technology would impart on the narrative.
Inception is a film that will stand the test of time remarkably well. The phrase “timeless classic” is one that gets bandied about far too freely, but in this case it could well turn out to be the literal truth.
Update: Adrian Sevitz points out that Inception is also remarkably lacking in product placement, or branded products in general. It’s true: I can’t recall seeing a single logo in the film. That’s something that has dogged Blade Runner with its unfortunate choice of brand extrapolation: Pan-am, Atari, Bell…
Saturday, July 17th, 2010
A response to Tom's "Either you've shipped or you haven't."
Tom says it like it is. Making A Thing generates empathy.
Thursday, July 15th, 2010
It's a small world after all.
Download Calexico live in Nuremburg, licensed under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial share-alike license.
Dan has an idea for a possible application of the HTML5 mark element in navigation lists.
Jonathan Stark's book is available online, in HTML, for free.
Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Aaron's lovely visualisation of Flickr's shapetiles.
Monday, July 12th, 2010
A cute little mashup: find out what you were listening to according to Last.fm when you were posting to Twitter.
Old photos placed on a map. Quite engrossing.
In just over seven weeks’ time, Brighton will once again play host to dConstruct.
I’m particularly excited about this year’s line-up. As well as the always-awesome Tom, Brendan and Hannah, there will be speakers that I haven’t seen before like Marty Neumeier and David McCandless. Then there’s the dynamic duo of John Gruber and Merlin Mann, no strangers to public speaking or each other.
I’m really looking forward to hearing Merlin Mann—as my Huffduffing history attests—and not just because he said nice things about Huffduffer. As for James Bridle… well, mark my words: when this year’s dConstruct is done, his talk will be the one that everyone will be talking about at the after-party.
That’s one of the other things that I’m excited about: chatting with all the people who are coming to dConstruct from far and wide. Tantek is coming all the way from San Francisco.
I’m not the only one looking forward to this year’s event. The buzz on the street is equally positive. That has been reflected in the brisk ticket sales. If you haven’t got a ticket yet, grab one now. At the time of writing, there are about 50 tickets left. If you don’t get a ticket, don’t come crying to me. They’ve been on sale for a week now. If you leave it too late, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
That said, there is a way of getting into dConstruct even after all the tickets have been sold. As is customary, there will be two days of workshops before the conference itself. If you book yourself onto a workshop, you automatically get entrance to the day of presentations.
Now, far be it for me to suggest which workshop you ought to book—they are all top-notch—but if you fancy expanding your mind with markup, I’ll be running HTML5 For Web Designers two days before the conference day. It’s the workshop of the book of the T-shirt. You can book your place for the early-bird price of £345 until August 5th. After that, it’s £395.
See you in September.
Saturday, July 10th, 2010
Well: this is an odd one: the entire duration of the trans-siberian railway on video and simultaneous map.
Friday, July 9th, 2010
A beautiful piece of musical mathematical poetry.
A nice look at some rules of thumb for combining typefaces.
Thursday, July 8th, 2010
A lovely bit of unboxing porn.
A website dedicated to the world-renowned trafficwomen of North Korea.
A timely reminder: don't hide information behind mouseover events.
Burnout is a bitch.
Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
A filter (for Mac and PC) to block violence, misogyny, superstition and other mainstays of religious content.
An excellent argument in favour of vendor prefixes in CSS, from Eric.
An entertaining missive from the future.
Designing for the apocalypse.
Monday, July 5th, 2010
Writing a book is hard. Ask someone who’s writing a book right now how it’s going and chances are you’ll catch them at a bad moment.
But there are good moments. Writing the final words of a book: that’s a good moment. Having conversations with a kick-ass editor: those are good moments. Hearing that the book has been sent to the printer: that’s a really good moment.
The best moment of all is when you finally have the physical book in your hands.
Joe once told me that the thing to do when you finally have a copy of your own book in your hands is to open it a random page and immediately find a typo. I’m happy to report that that little test returned no results.
Instead, I opened up the book at a random point, pressed my nose into it and breathed deeply. Ah, that new book smell!
It looks as good as it smells, which is hardly surprising given the care and attention that Jason poured into the design. Clearly I’m not alone in that appraisal. As the book gets delivered to discerning readers across the globe, Flickr is filling up with pictures of HTML5 For Web Designers fresh out of the box. I’ve added my own unboxing set to the mix.
Twitter is also abuzz with reports of the book’s arrival, although it’s also filled with an oft-repeated question:
when will HTML5 For Web Designers be available in digital format?
It is with great pleasure that I give you… HTML5 For Web Designers on the iPad:
Seriously though, there will be an ePub version available at some point, but we want to make sure that it’s top quality. In the meantime, get yourself the fragrant dead-tree version and enjoy the physical feel of it. You may even want to take a picture.
Sunday, July 4th, 2010
Basecamp is now chockful of hCards. Excellent!
Saturday, July 3rd, 2010
Live in Brighton? Like hardware hacking? Build Brighton needs your input.
Friday, July 2nd, 2010
Beautiful chemistry visualisations using canvas.
Thursday, July 1st, 2010
Brighton gets its own UX conference.
A rip-o...— I mean, another form inspired by Huffduffer.