Archive: March, 2011

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Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Flyer beware; real cost of flying Ryanair « Alan Colville

Superb in-depth analysis of Ryanair’s website dark patterns and nasty brand strategy.

Announcing Typo.js: Client-side JavaScript Spellchecking

This could be a handy: a client-side spellchecker. The dictionary files are a bit big of course—maybe local storage could help.

Adam Greenfield at Cognitive Cities Conference on Vimeo

On Public Objects: Connected Things And Civic Responsibilities In The Networked City.

Tell-all telephone | Data Protection | Digital | ZEIT ONLINE

A dataviz demo of creepiness: displaying the movements of Malte Spitz by correlating her phone activity and web usage.

Use Huffduffer directly in Google Reader and on your Android Phone | Frankie – Award winning Art Director

How cool is this‽ You can create your own custom “huffduff it” link for items in Google Reader.

Letters of Note: I think I no how to make people or animals alive

This is why, when a child posits something ridiculous-sounding, you should encourage them.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

HTTP Archive

This is wonderful stuff: a long-term project to track the performance of high-traffic sites over time: oodles of lovely data and some quite shocking stats.

Principles Apart

I was nervous as hell before my talk at An Event Apart Seattle. I don’t normally get quite so nervous but it was a new talk and also …it’s An Event Apart! They set a very, very high bar.

Once I got on stage though, I just started geeking out. I was talking about design principles, a subject I find fascinating. I’m hoping that some of my enthusiasm for the subject helped make for a compelling presentation.

It was a whirlwind tour, starting with a long-zoom look at design principles in history before moving on to the web, where I took an up-close-and-personal look at CSS and quite a bit of HTML, before pulling back again to talk about our planet, our solar system and our galaxy. Yes, there was a space elevator.

I mentioned a range of people, organisations and projects that have documented their design principles, but rather than fill up the slides with lots of URLs, I gave just one URL at the start (and end) of the talk:

principles.adactio.com

That’s where I gathering today examples of documented design principles. By “documented” I mean “published on the web.” There are some really interesting principles from disciplines like urban design but as long as they are locked up in books that aren’t addressable on the network, I can’t link to them.

This is a fairly small-scale project so I figured a wiki might be overkill but if you know of any good documented design principles that should be added to the list, let me know

Jeremy Keith, Design Principles, Day II, #aea Jeremy Keith, Design Principles, Day II, #aea

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

This Place is Not a Place of Honor on Vimeo

A demo reel for the proposed solution to a very, very, very long term problem.

Madmanimation

Andy just debuted this at An Event Apart—lovely stuff.

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Everything I’ve learned about podcasting over the last four years | fortuitous

A very handy “how to” for recording your own podcast.

Safety Maps: A Do Project

A handy papernet tool for emergency situations. “Zombie apocalypse” is not, alas, one of the default options.

StartUpBritain done better

Apparently I’m the anti- David Cameron. I’ll take that.

Story Matters

Magazine creators share their experiences of going digital.

Baran

The first Event Apart of the year has just kicked off here in Seattle. Every Event Apart is excellent, but the Seattle instantiation has two extra things going for it:

  1. a great venue and
  2. a really great hotel with some colourful history.

Jeffrey opened the proceedings with a long-zoom stroll down memory lane, giving us a history lesson of technology, the internet, the web and web standards.

Reflecting on the history of the internet today seems especially poignant with the recent passing of . Which reminds me…

Ten years ago, the Zelig-like Stuart Brand conducted an interview with Paul Baran. You can read the transcript on Wired.

It’s fantastic! A mixture of cold-war history and eerie emergent network effects:

It didn’t take very long before we started seeing all sorts of wonderful properties in this model. The network would learn where everybody was. You could chop up the network and within half a second of real-world time it would be routing traffic again. Then we had the realization that if there’s an overload in one place, traffic will move around it. So it’s a lot more efficient than conventional communications. If somebody tries to hog the network, the traffic routes away from them. Packet switching had all these wonderful properties that weren’t invented — they were discovered.

text-align: centaur;

I am easily amused.

One hundred and seven

The word “awesome” is over-used. I’m about to over-use it some more.

The internet is mostly awesome. Some human beings are also awesome. When you combine the two, you get awesome things. Here are just two such awesome things:

  1. Anton Peck is a brilliant illustrator. He’s currently executing a project called 100 Little Robots. Anton will craft postcards for 100 people, each postcard displaying a unique hand-drawn robot. If you want to be one of those 100 people, order your robot card now. I got mine and it is, well …awesome.
  2. James Bridle is a brilliant writer. He just finished a series of articles called Seven posts about the future. Read them all. Seriously. They are all wonderful and the final story reads like a Nerdpunk copulation of Salman Rushdie and William Gibson.

Awesome.

A drawing of a robot

this, is boomerang

This code could be useful in determining a user’s bandwidth.

Weekend Reading: Responsive Web Design and Mobile Context « Cloud Four

Jason Grigsby pulls together a bunch of links related to responsive design, mobile web and that tricky context problem.

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Clarification

I feel I need to clarify my last post and make a general point about One Web.

When I say…

we need to think about publishing content that people want while adapting the display of that content according to the abilities of the person’s device.

…I do not mean we need to adjust the layout of existing desktop sites for other devices. Quite the opposite. I mean we need to stop building desktop-specific sites.

I think there’s a misconception that responsive web design is a “get out of jail free” card: instead of designing for different devices, all you have to do is reflow your existing pages so that they fit fine on any screen, right?

Wrong.

If you have a desktop-specific site—and, let’s face it, that covers over 90% of the web—the first step is to replace it with a device-agnostic site. Not mobile-specific, not desktop-specific, not tablet-specific, but centred instead around the person visiting the site and the content that they want.

That’s what I meant when I said:

Most of the time, creating a separate mobile website is simply a cop-out.

It’s an acknowledgement that the existing desktop-specific site is too bloated and crufty.

Luke’s idea of Mobile First is a good thought exercise to start designing from the content out, but the name is a little misleading. It could just as easily be Print First or Any-Device-Other-Than-The-Desktop First.

Here’s what I’m getting at: we act as though mobile is a new problem, and that designing for older devices—like desktop and laptop computers—is a solved problem. I’m saying that the way we’ve been designing for the desktop is fundamentally flawed. Yes, mobile is a whole new domain, but what it really does is show just how bad our problem-solving has been up ‘till now.

Further reading: It’s About People, Not Devices by Bryan and Stephanie Rieger.

Context

I swear there’s some kind of quantum entanglement going on between Ethan’s brain and mine. Demonstrating spooky action at a distance, just as I was jotting down my half-assed caveat related to responsive design, he publishes a sharp and erudite explanation of what responsive design is and isn’t attempting to do. He uses fancy learnin’ words and everything:

When I’m speaking or writing about responsive design, I try to underline something with great, big, Sharpie-esque strokes: responsive design is not about “designing for mobile.” But it’s not about “designing for the desktop,” either. Rather, it’s about adopting a more flexible, device-agnostic approach to designing for the web. Fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries are the tools we use to get a bit closer to that somewhat abstract-sounding philosophy. And honestly, a more unified, less fragmented approach resonates with my understanding of the web on a fairly profound level.

Meanwhile Mark has written a beautiful encapsulation of the sea change that responsive design is a part of:

Embrace the fluidity of the web. Design layouts and systems that can cope to whatever environment they may find themselves in. But the only way we can do any of this is to shed ways of thinking that have been shackles around our necks. They’re holding us back.

Start designing from the content out, rather than the canvas in.

Both Ethan and Mark are writing books. I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

In the meantime, I wanted to take an opportunity to clear up some misunderstandings I keep seeing coming up again and again in relation to responsive web design. So put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea while I try to gather my thoughts into some kind of coherence.

Breaking it down

To paraphrase , web design is filled with quite a few known unknowns. Here are three of them:

  1. Viewport: the dimensions of the browser that a person uses to access your content.
  2. Bandwidth: the speed of the network connection that a person uses to access your content.
  3. Context: the environment from which a person accesses your content.

Viewport

With the proliferation of mobile devices, tablets and every other kind of browsing device imaginable, there’s a high number of possible viewport sizes. But here’s the thing: that’s always been the case.

For over a decade, we have pretended that there’s a mythical perfect size that every person will be using. To start, that size was 640x480, then it was 800x600, then 1024x768 …but this magical ideal dimension was always a phantom. People have always been visiting our websites with browsers open to varying dimensions of width and height—the rise of “mobile” has simply thrown that fact into sharp relief.

The increasing proliferation of different-sized devices and browsers means that we can no longer cling to the consensual hallucination of the “ideal” viewport size.

Fortunately this is a solved problem. Liquid layouts were a good first step. Once you add media queries into the mix it’s possible to successfully deal with a wide range of viewport sizes.

Simply put, responsive web design solves the viewport question.

But that’s just one of three issues.

Bandwidth

Using either media queries or JavaScript, we can test for a person’s viewport size and adapt our layouts accordingly; there is no equivalent test for the speed of a person’s network connection.

This sucks.

The Filament Group are experimenting with responsive images and I hope to see a lot more experimentation in this area. But when it comes to serving up different-sized media to different people, we are forced to make an assumption. The assumption is that a small viewport equates to narrow bandwidth.

‘Tain’t necessarily so. If I’m using my iPod Touch I’m surfing with a fairly small screen but I’m not doing it over 3G or Edge—same goes for anyone idly browsing on the iPhone or iPad on their work or home connection.

Likewise, just because I’m using my laptop doesn’t mean I’m connected with a fat pipe. When I took the train from Seattle to Portland there was WiFi available …of a sort. And many’s the hotel connection that pushes the boundaries of advertising itself as “high speed.”

Once again, the “solution” to this problem for the past decade has been to ignore it. Just as with viewport size, we engage in a consensual hallucination of ideal bandwidth. Just as with viewport size, the proliferation of new devices is highlighting a problem that was always there. Unlike viewport size, the bandwidth issue is a much tougher nut to crack.

Responsive web design doesn’t directly solve the bandwidth question. I suspect that the solutions will involve a mixture of server-side and client-side trickery, most likely involving clever for nice-to-have content. I’ll be keeping an eye on the work of Steve Souders.

In the meantime, the best we can do is stop assuming a best-case scenario for bandwidth.

Context

You don’t know what a person is doing when they visit your website. It’s possible to figure out what viewport size they are accessing your content with and it might even be possible to figure out how fast their network connection is but short of clairvoyance, there’s no way of knowing whether someone is in a hurry or looking to spend some time hanging out on your site.

Once again, this has always been the case. Once again, we have up ‘till now ignored the problem by pretending the person visiting our website—the same person with the perfect viewport size and the fast internet connection—doesn’t mind being served up dollops and dollops of so-called “content”, very little of which is directly relevant to them.

The rise of services like Readability and Safari’s Reader mode demonstrate that the overabundance of page cruft is being interpreted as damage and routed around.

The context problem—figuring out what a person is doing at the moment they visit a site—is really, really hard.

Responsive web design does not solve the context problem. It doesn’t even attempt to. The context problem is a very different issue to the viewport problem—which responsive web design does solve. As Mark put it:

It’s making sure your layout doesn’t look crap on diff. sized screens. Nothing more.

He was responding to Brian and Kevin who I think may have misunderstood the problems that responsive web design is trying to solve. Brian wrote:

anyone that claims “responsive design” as a best practice clearly has never actually tried to support multiple contexts or devices.

Those are two different issues: contexts and devices. The device issue breaks down into viewport size and bandwidth. Responsive design is certainly a best practice when tackling the viewport issue. But Brian’s right: responsive design does not solve the problem of different contexts. Nor did it ever claim to.

As I’ve said before:

The choice is not between using media queries and creating a dedicated mobile site; the choice is between using media queries and doing nothing at all.

If responsive design were being sold as a solution to the context problem, I too would be annoyed. But that’s not the case.

The mythical mobile context

As with the viewport issue and the bandwidth issue, the context issue—which has always been there—is now at the fore with the rise of mobile devices. As well as trying to figure out what a person wants when they visit a website, we now have to think about where they are, where they are going and where they have just been.

This is by far the toughest problem.

Bizarrely, this is the very known unknown that I see addressed as though it were solved. “Someone visits your site with a mobile device therefore they are in a rush, walking down the street, hurriedly trying to find your phone number!”

Really?

The data does not support this. All those people with mobile devices sitting on a train or sitting in a cafe or lounging on the sofa at home; they are all in a very different context to the imaginary persona of the mobile user rushing hither and thither.

We have once again created a consensual hallucination. Just as we generated a mythical desktop user with the perfect viewport size, a fast connection and an infinite supply of attention, we have now generated a mythical mobile user who has a single goal and no attention span.

More and more people are using mobile devices as a primary means of accessing the web. The number is already huge and it’s increasing every day. I don’t think they’re all using their devices just to look up the opening times of restaurants. They are looking for the same breadth and richness of experience that they’ve come to expect from the web on other devices.

Hence the frustration with mobile-optimised sites that remove content that’s available on the desktop-optimised version.

Rather than creating one site for an imaginary desktop user and another for an imaginary mobile user, we need to think about publishing content that people want while adapting the display of that content according to the abilities of the person’s device. That’s why I’m in favour of universal design and the One Web approach.

That’s also why responsive web design can be such a powerful tool. But make no mistake: responsive web design is there to help solve the viewport problem, not the context problem.

Update: Of course the usual caveat applies. Also, here’s some clarification about what I’m sugguesting.

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Cheese or Font

Clearly my knowledge of cheese and fonts is way worse than I realised.

Dig the new breed | Stuff and Nonsense

Like Malarkey, I welcome our future responsive design progeny overlords.

Touching Strangers

The premise of this work is simple: I meet two or more people on the street who are strangers to each other, and to me. I ask them if they will pose for a photograph together with the stipulation that they must touch each other in some manner. Frequently, I instruct or coach the subjects how to touch. Just as often, I let their tentative physical exploration play out before my camera with no interference.

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Star Wars memories

It’s been a starwarsy few days.

I made the most of my brief time in Seattle with a visit the Star Wars exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. I took many photos. Needless to say, I loved it, particularly the robot show’n’tell that intermixed fictional droids like C3PO with automata from our own timeline like Kismet. The premise of the exhibition was to essentially treat Star Wars as a work of design fiction.

From Seattle, Jessica and I took the train down to Portland. No, it didn’t go under the ocean like the Eurostar, and having WiFi on board a train wasn’t quite as thrilling as having WiFi on a plane, but it was still a lovely journey through some beautiful scenery. Do not pass Go. Do not get groped by the TSA.

Portland turns out to be delightful, just as reports suggested. There are food carts a-plenty. There’s a ma-HOO-sive book shop. There’s excellent coffee. And then there’s the beer. From Wikipedia:

With 46 microbrew outlets, Portland has more breweries and brewpubs per capita than any other city in the United States.

After consuming a few beers in the company of Portland’s finest geeks, we relocated to a true Portland institution: Ground Kontrol. It’s an arcade. But it’s a bar. But it’s an arcade! But it’s a bar!

Amongst the many, many machines packed into the place was . Just seeing it brought back a Proustian rush of memories. I had to play it. I remembered a not-so-secret tactic that results in a nice big bonus…

When you get to the trench level on the Death Star, don’t fire; instead dodge and weave to avoid the incoming fire. After about thirty seconds, the music stops. You are now using the Force. If you fire just one single shot into the exhaust port at the end of the trench, you will be rewarded with many, many bonus points.

You’re welcome.

Toffee-nosed. — Unstoppable Robot Ninja

A superb explanation of rhetorical devices by Ethan.

Caveat

This is a disclaimer.

I have been writing and talking a lot about responsive web design, a pattern that I think emerges naturally from the principle of universal design. I will continue to write and talk about responsive and universal design in the future and I will continue to advocate a “one web” approach to treating all users fairly regardless of ability or device.

But here’s the thing: I am fully aware that there is no one correct answer to every situation. So even though I’m going to continue to bang the drum of one web, I’m not actually foolish enough to think that it’s a cure-all. I’m taking a deliberately Friedian approach in order to back up a stance that I think is woefully under-represented in most discussions of modern web development.

If you’re looking for the more honest, truthful answer to pretty much any question on web design and usability, here it is:

It depends.

I now return you to your regular schedule of absolutist self-righteous claims.

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

“When It’s Not Your Turn”: The Quintessentially Victorian Vision of Ogden’s “The Wire” « The Hooded Utilitarian

What if the Wire were a serialised Dickensian story? …which, let’s face it, it kinda is.

A Richer Canvas: Mark Boulton

An excellent statement of intent from Mark. You can either read this now and start creating websites the right way, or you can scrabble to catch up further down the line; I recommend reading this now.

Embrace the fluidity of the web. Design layouts and systems that can cope to whatever environment they may find themselves in. But the only way we can do any of this is to shed ways of thinking that have been shackles around our necks. They’re holding us back.

Start designing from the content out, rather than the canvas in.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Starpunk | booktwo.org

James Bridle is my favourite Blogpunk author.

Famous Objects from Classic Movies

Match the MacGuffin to the movie. Like Hangman for films.

Have Kindle, will travel

I’m on my way from Florida to the Pacific Northwest. I don’t mean I’m about to set out. I mean, right now I’m in a plane flying across North America from Orlando to Seattle. This in-flight WiFi lark is quite wonderful.

There are some other technological inventions that make long journeys more bearable. There’s podcasts, of course. I’m catching up on all the audio I’ve been huffduffing and there’s some truly wonderful stuff in there.

Then there’s the Kindle. Having a choice of reading material packed into a small but comfortable to read device is extremely convenient. Mind you, for take off and landing, you’ll still need a nice slim non-electronic book, such as Erin’s marvelous The Elements of Content Strategy.

But for all of its convenience, some things about the Kindle really stick in my craw.

First of all, there’s the DRM. It’s utterly, utterly pointless and may even be infringing copyright by violating —remember kids, copyright isn’t just about protecting the rights of the content producer; it’s about the rights of the consumer too.

Then there’s the pricing. There are some books I’d really like to buy right now. I’ve got my credit in my hand, ready to hand my money over to Amazon, but then I see that the Kindle edition costs more than the paperback. Often, the Kindle edition is closer in price to the hardback. That’s just not right—or even if it is “right” for economic and legal reasons, it doesn’t intuitively feel right to me, the potential customer.

Kevin Kelly figures that electronic books will cost about a dollar within five years. Sounds about right to me. He also extrapolated that Kindles could be free by November.

The ludicrous asking price for DRM’d electrons is even more galling when the publishers clearly put no effort whatsoever into the production of the work. I really wanted to buy Surface Detail, the latest Culture novel from Iain M. Banks, but when I found reviews bemoaning the conversion quality, I put my credit card away:

I read the Kindle version, and the Kindle version has been lazily put together, I’m guessing from an earlier manuscript version. It has missing or half completed paragraphs. Very frustrating.

Jessica had already bought The City And The City by China Miéville—another book I really want to read—but she had to get a refund because the formatting was so awful.

Phil Gyford, speaking in the context of shoddily-printed physical books, sums up my frustration with the way publishers are treating Kindle editions:

I want to love books, but if the publisher treats them merely as interchangeable units, where the details don’t matter so long as the bits, the “content”, is conveyed as cheaply as possible, then we may be falling out of love.

Cennydd doesn’t even bother with the book-reading aspect of the Kindle, using it instead as an interface onto Instapaper.

The Kindle is a great lightweight reading device that’s particularly handy for travelling with—and the 3G version provides an almost miraculous permanent internet connection without any monthly contract—but the Kindle ecosystem, for all its Whispernet wonderment, is kind of nasty.

Now Amazon have decided that this ecosystem will not include third-party additions like Lendle. Even nastier.

The medium is the short message

I awoke on my final morning in Florida to find that Jeffrey had written some kind words about a post of mine on responsive design. He also tweeted the link which prompted many questions and comments on Twitter.

I didn’t respond to them.

I have written about responsive web design here in my journal and I’m sure I will have much, much more to say on the matter. But this kind of subject—the sort that requires nuanced, thoughtful discussion—is completely unsuited to Twitter. If anything, Twitter’s tendency (or “twendency”, if you will …’sokay—I just punched myself in the face for that) is to reduce more complex discussion down into simplified soundbites and Boolean values.

Personally, I still get the most value from Twitter when I treat it as a sort of micro-journal, much as I did when I first started using it four and a half years ago. I like Twitter, but it is definitely not the best platform for every kind of online discourse.

This has prompted a call-to-arms from Chris Shiflett:

Most conversation has moved from blogs to Twitter, and although Twitter is more active than blogs ever were, there are fewer quality conversations and debates taking place as a result of this transition. I’m hoping you’ll join me in a blog revival.

The Web Standardistas are rallying behind it:

It might just be the call to arms that shifts our priorities slightly, focusing just a little more on the longer, more considered pieces; posts that are more rewarding to write, hopefully more rewarding to read, and conceivably more likely to be curated.

Drew is on board too:

This isn’t a backlash against Twitter, however. There’s room for both — for quick headline thoughts and for more reasoned posts. I think it would be a shame to have only the former and none of the latter. As such, I’ve been making a bit more of an effort to dust off my own blog and to post some of the things I would normally just tweet.

So is Jon:

The real banquets are blog posts, though. I’ve learnt more from them in the last ten years than I ever will from 140 characters. That’s why blogs are something to be treasured. Blogs and RSS may be dead according to some, but I like that I disagree.

I’m very happy to see my friends and peers make a concerted effort to return to long(er) form writing.

Some of us never stopped.

If you’d like to debate and discuss responsive web design or anything else, I encourage you to take the time to write a blog post. It doesn’t have to be very long, but it’ll probably require more than 140 characters.

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Tidy Street electricity usage | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

I really like this idea: one street in Brighton is openly displaying its electricity usage over time.

Tidy Street electricity usage

Tom Morris - .tel, .xxx and .mobi are all pointless and idiotic

If I were an American, I’d now be saying something like “ICANN have jumped the shark”. Instead, I’m British, so I’ll say “ICANN are fucking useless twats who need a firm kick in the bollocks”.

A History of the Future in 100 Objects | Mssv

Adrian Hon’s Kickstarter project has already reached its goal. I can’t wait for the podcasting to start.

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Reflection

I’m enjoying a nice little break between conferences. I’m taking it easy with my in-laws in the warm climes of Saint Augustine, Florida where I’ve been spending my time soaking up the sun and gently freaking out about my upcoming talk at An Event Apart in Seattle.

This downtime has finally given me the chance to catch up with hundreds of unread emails from the WHATWG and W3C HTML mailing lists. I may even attempt to catch up on my RSS feeds.

This break comes at the just the right time after all the hustle and bustle of South by Southwest. I’m not the only one reflecting on this year’s event. The general consensus from just about everyone is that they had a great time, even if opinion is divided on the value of the conference portion.

Aleks writes in the Guardian:

SxSWi is in danger of growing too big for its britches.

Paul also bemoans the expansion of the conference but even he, curmudgeon extraordinaire that he is, cannot deny having a grand ol’ time as he writes in The Worst SXSW Ever Was My Best SXSW Ever:

Whilst the key reason for visiting SXSW remains being able to meet up with so many people at the same time, the diminishing quality of topics and sessions means its harder to justify the price of a ticket.

That’s a trend that Andy noticed as well, though he too had a great time:

This year I finally gave up on the conference itself, going to a handful of sessions. I met many more who hadn’t seen a single session and several who didn’t even bother buying a ticket. Instead people spent time seeing friends and maintaining the weak ties in their social graph. I say that somewhat wryly, but SXSW really has become about networking in the most real and genuine sense of the word.

John takes up this point and writes of The Evolution of SXSW Interactive:

I had a great time, once again, but only in the sense that Austin is a fine city and you can’t help but have fun hanging out with good friends from across the country (and globe) whom you see in person only rarely. The conference itself, though, is a mess.

That’s a bit harsh but then again, I’m fortunate enough to go to plenty of conferences so I don’t have great expectations for the sessions at Southby. If it were the only conference I was attending, I’d probably want to get more obvious benefit from the presentations—Jessica noticed that even the good talks she saw still suffered from being somewhat superficial, lacking a real “deep dive” into the subject matter.

That said, I made some pretty good choices and wound up at some excellent panels. On the whole I was trying to avoid panels directly related to work so I was sure to check out the superb Made It So: Interface Makers in Movies featuring Mark Coleran and other stalwarts of cinematic sci-fi. But I felt duty-bound to attend panels on HTML5 and microformats—they may as well have been titled The Politics Behind HTML5, Jeremy, The Future of Microformats, Jeremy and Browser Wars IV, Jeremy.

Good thing they turned out to be highly entertaining. In particular, Arun’s moderation of the annual Browser Wars panel was a joy to behold. I didn’t need to rush the stage or grab the mic or anything—Arun took care of asking all the tricky questions without mercy. And let’s not forget the brilliance of Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel, made all the more wonderful by the zinging wit of Mandy’s one-liners.

Still, I can totally understand why quite a few people chose to come to Austin but not attend the conference itself. The conference part definitely plays second fiddle to the social aspect. Josh sums it up nicely when he writes:

I don’t know what the future holds for this conference, but I am thankful for the opportunity to deepen old friendships and create brand new ones, all while geeking out and wandering around the beautiful city of Austin.

JAMES FACE - OLI ALEX

Cruel in a subtle sort of way: re-posting slightly tweaked Facebook photos of one poor guy.

IMG_3937 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

There’s a Kubrickian quality to this picture Tantek snapped of me asking a question during his microformats panel.

IMG_3937

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth ‘Crying In Rage’ : Krulwich Wonders… : NPR

An astonishing story from the Soviet side of the space race that is equal parts stupidity and sacrifice.

Brian Eno - The Big Here and the Long Now | DIGITALSOULS.COM | New Media Art | Philosophy | Culture

Brian Eno’s original essay on the origins of The Long Now Foundation. It is ten years old—a long time on the web and 1% of a millennium.

Humans are capable of a unique trick: creating realities by first imagining them, by experiencing them in their minds. When Martin Luther King said “I have a dream…” , he was inviting others to dream it with him. Once a dream becomes shared in that way, current reality gets measured against it and then modified towards it. As soon as we sense the possibility of a more desirable world, we begin behaving differently – as though that world is starting to come into existence, as though, in our minds at least, we’re already there. The dream becomes an invisible force which pulls us forward. By this process it starts to come true. The act of imagining something makes it real.

YouTube - Vader

We want the finest Star Wars parodies known to man—we want them here and we want them now!

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Change Proposal for ISSUE-140 - WHATWG Wiki

An excellent zero-edit counter-proposal from Anne detailing why version numbers are unnecessary and undesirable for HTML.

YouTube - Magnum v. Solo, sequence comparison

When you see Craig’s Han Solo PI side by side with the original title sequence of Magnum PI, the genius shines through.

Made by One – Huffduffer

In which I answer some questions about the making of Huffduffer.

Geek Ninja Battle Night | Stuff and Nonsense

Andy hammers home the benefit of a long-term format like HTML compared to the brittle, fleeting shininess of an ephemeral platform-specific app.

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

iPad: The Microwave Oven of Computing | Techinch

Y’know, I think this comparison actually makes a lot of sense.

finding baby sciences and new moons (17 Mar., 2011, at Interconnected)

Matt casts around for new areas of scientific research.

Ribot - interface innovation

Fellow Brightonians, the brothers Ribot and co., launch an excellently responsive company site.

South by south met

South by Southwest Interactive is over for another year. Contrary to some of my expectations, it was quite wonderful.

Yes, there were plenty of social media marketing douchebags thrusting schwag and spouting pitches, but there were also shedloads of enthusiastic friendly geeks eager to hang out and share ideas.

Knowing how big the event had grown, I thought I might have trouble seeing all my friends, but I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of running around in a mad dash to see everything and meet everyone, I took things nice’n’slow and ended up meeting up with everyone anyway.

Southby is a great opportunity for me to meet up with peers that I haven’t seen in a year, but it’s an even greater opportunity to meet with new people. This year I met some of my idols in Austin, like David Baron and Fantasai from the CSS Working Group—the unsung heroes of web standards.

I also met the Jason Scott: head of Archive Team and custodian of Sockington the cat. We got together and geeked out about digital preservation with inevitable anger and vehemence when discussing the fate of Geocities or the current plan by the BBC, the technical term for which is “a dick move.”

I highly recommend that you set aside twenty minutes to listen to Jason’s talk from the Personal Digital Conference. It will entertain and energise you.

The Spendiferous Story of Archive Team on Huffduffer

Monday, March 14th, 2011

A Memory of Webs Past - IEEE Spectrum

A detailed look at how French archivists go about preserving websites.

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Managing Southby

I was somewhat trepidatious about coming to South by Southwest this year. It’s big. Really, really big. It was already quite big last year and it was kind of hard to see everyone so I assumed that this year the problem would be exacerbated.

I have been pleasantly surprised. On the first day alone I met so many friends I was hoping to see over the course of the whole event. This makes me very, very happy. I’m also meeting lots of new people. This too makes me very, very happy. The excellent weather and delicious food of Austin, Texas is also making me very, very happy.

So far I’ve been pretty fortunate in my choice of panels and presentations. I’m generally avoiding HTML/CSS/JavaScript talks and going for material that’s only tangentially related to my work. To that end, I’ve enjoyed presentations on cargo containers, mad science secrets of DARPA and the influence of science fiction on cities.

Finding and managing SxSW presentations can be a chore. The official panel picker is pretty bad—an event site without microformats is just broken. Taylor’s project, Sched, is a much better substitute.

Figuring out which presentations to go to has been a whole lot easier this year. It’s all thanks to Lanyrd, which has a dedicated sub-site just for Southby. Putting a schedule together has been a breeze and getting my calendar into iCal onto my iPod is nice and straightforward. The grid view is particularly handy for making panel choices; a distant location can make or break the decision.

For such a well-thought out and executed service, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lanyrd has a team of team working on it. But the team behind every single part of Lanyrd is just two people: Simon and Nat. The site would be an impressive achievement anyway but it’s quite amazing when you know that it’s the work of just two people—admittedly two of the most talented and hard-working people I know.

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Drupalcon in Chi-town

The last time I was in Chicago the weather was rather lovely. I spent some time walking around, gaping up at the skyscrapers and exploring the city.

This time the weather has been a bit chillier. My attempts to venture out and explore the city on foot ended in defeat as I was beaten back to the warmer confines of the hotel playing host to Drupalcon.

My first day, as anticipated, was spent hunting down a mythical FedEx/Kinkos so I could print out workshop materials—paper-based exercises and HTML5 pocketbooks. With that task achieved—at no minor expense; charging for ink on paper is clearly a lucrative business model—imagine my surprise when I turned up the next day for my workshop and I was handed the printouts of my workshop exercises; the same materials I had been told I would have to print out for myself. Clearly, I didn’t get the memo …possibly because said memo was never conjured into existence.

Apart from that breakdown in communication, the HTML5 workshop went smoothly. Better than smoothly. The attendees were asking excellent questions and some great discussions emerged. Running a workshop can be very tiring but it can also be very rewarding.

The next morning I attended Dries’s pep-talk keynote. It was like experiencing a milder, kinder more collaborative version of Scientology (I kid, I kid; ‘twas a lovely State of the Union address).

Part of the keynote was a compilation of answers to the question “What is Drupal?” put to a backing track of a suitably schmaltzy motivational song (David Brent would’ve been jealous). As I watched the quotes appear on screen, I noticed that one of them was attributed to me. Except… I have no recollection of ever saying or writing something along the lines of:

Drupal makes complex things easy and easy things complex.

Sure enough, it turns out that the quote was misattributed to me.

I guess it sounds like something I could have said. In fact, I could justify the paraphrased quote thusly: If you want to get a database-driven site up and running quickly, you can do that with Drupal simply by pressing a few buttons and pulling the software equivalent of levers. However, if you want to edit, for example, the way that a particular form field has been marked up, or you’d like to remove some superfluous div elements …well, for that you need to really know what you’re doing.

Hence, Drupal makes complex things (like setting up a website) easy and easy things (like editing some markup) complex.

I had quite a few conversations with people about the nature of frameworks and Drupal in particular. Personally, it doesn’t appeal to me, not just because it doesn’t output the kind of markup that I’d like. It doesn’t appeal to me simply because it outputs any markup at all. I prefer something more like Django that takes care of abstracting away all that server-side complexity and database work, but leaves it entirely up to you to create the front-end (well, except for the admin interface).

But that’s just me. And I totally understand that for other people, that just isn’t a priority and Drupal’s ability to deliver an entire site, front-end included, is a godsend. Different frameworks will appeal to different people—the trick is in finding a framework that matches the way that you approach a problem. A framework is, after all, supposed to be a tool to help you get work done faster. No one framework is suitable for all projects and no one framework can possibly hope to appeal to everyone.

Yet, at Drupalcon, I got the impression that Drupal might be attempting to do just that. Rather than focusing on the kind of sites for which Drupal is particularly well-suited, the goal appears to be nothing less than total domination of the web. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. If you try to please literally everybody, I think you’ll probably end up pleasing nobody.

I did hear rumblings of the possibility of changing Drupal so that there would be no markup in its core release. Rather, different distributions (built on top of core) could be used to create the right kind of site; one distribution for news sites, another distribution for company websites, and so on. I like that idea. It would also make it easier for Drupal to adapt its output to different devices—something that Dries touched on his keynote.

Meanwhile Jen is spearheading an effort to update Drupal’s output to include HTML5 additions—new input types for forms, sectioning elements for content, and so on. She’s beginning by proposing some design principles. I believe this is a thoroughly excellent approach. At Jen’s Drupalcon core conversation I offered my feedback (and encouragement) on how the design principles are shaping up.

For the rest of Drupalcon, I found plenty to keep my interest. There was a significant design portion to the proceedings so even a non-Drupal person like me could find some great talks, like Samantha’s superb round-up of design techniques—I’ll be bringing some of those gems back to the Clearlefties.

My final night in Chicago was nigh-on perfect. Adrian had been in touch to let me know that his band would be playing in the historic Green Mill. I rustled up a little posse of designers and we spent the evening listening to superb gypsy jazz in an amazing venue that was once a favourite haunt of Al Capone (rumour has it that the grumpy doorman is related). A nightcap of beer and cheezborger, cheezborger, cheezborger at The Billy Goat Tavern was the coup de grace.

Now I bid farewell to Chicago and hello to Austin, where the weather is significantly warmer.

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Showcase: Pop-Up Book in HTML and CSS | eleqtriq

A cute’n’nifty demonstration of transforms and animations in CSS that works a treat in Webkit.

F*ck Yeah Headlines

Each weekday I find a headline on a major news site, and illustrate it without reading a word of the story.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Read ePub ebooks online : Bookworm ePub reader

A browser-based ePub reader. ‘Cause it’s (X)HTML all the way down, baby.

The State of HTML5 Audio - PhobosLab

A rather vicious evaluation of browser support for the audio element and the audio API. It is divided up into:

  • Browsers From Companies That Actually Care About HTML5 Audio
  • Browsers From Companies That Hate the Web Enough to Not Support Ogg/Vorbis, but do Have an Audio Tag So They Can Say They Have an Audio Tag (Seriously, Fuck You)
  • Browsers That Say They Support HTML5 Audio But Actually Don’t Support HTML5 Audio

mezzoblue § Serendipity

The web demonstrates its loosely-joined nature yet again; a photo of mine from a science hack/design fiction exhibit results in Dave discovering his family crest.

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Shady Characters

The secret life of punctuation.

YouTube - Harvard Humanists Stephen Fry 2 22 2011 Chapter 10 Molly Lewis

If I had the right biological equipment, I think I too might offer to bear Stephen Fry’s children …in a song.

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

The Pod F. Tompkast, episode 1 on Huffduffer

The Google voicemail transcript, which begins at 11 minutes in, cracked me up.

Jon Rafman

Some of the more unusual moments in time that have been captured by Google Street View. There’s something very Gibsonian about this.

Home - Brighton Open Kitchen Project

This looks like an excellent project for Brighton:

We would like to create a community cooking space in the heart of the city, for people with a passion for food. This will give people access to a commercial kitchen space from which they can learn, share and improve skills while potentially starting food-related ventures.

a world of tweets

A very pretty visualisation of tweets on a map using canvas.

Sad Star Trek

Life isn’t always happy and jolly in The Future.

Friday, March 4th, 2011

yepnope.js | A Conditional Loader For Your Polyfills!

A nice’n’small lazy loader that should make life easier when it comes to pollyfilling browser support for nifty HTML5 or CSS3 features.

American Odyssey

I’ve been back in Brighton for just a couple of days and now I’m about to embark on a fairly lengthy trip away to the States.

Tomorrow I’m flying to a somewhat chilly Chicago. I’ve only been there once before, but I absolutely loved it. The architecture! The hot dogs! Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger! Cheeseborger!

I’m going there for Drupalcon. I’ll be leading an HTML5 workshop on Monday. I’d love to try to Abe Froman my way into the Web Science Workshop the day before, but I’ll probably be too busy finding somewhere to print off workshop materials (a service the conference organisers are unwilling to provide …it’s like the opposite of how Sophie runs UX London).

Right about the time that Drupalcon is wrapping up, I’ll head down to Austin for the annual geek pilgrimage to South By Southwest Interactive. I should really pay close attention Tantek’s SXSW packing and check list.

This year, I’m not giving a presentation or speaking on a panel so I can relax and enjoy myself. If you’re heading to Southby, I look forward to sharing a Shiner Bock or three—one of the reasons I like going is not just to see people I haven’t seen in ages, but also to meet new people who equally geeky about the web.

After the craziness of Austin, I’m going to unwind for a while with the in-laws down in Saint Augustine, Florida, which should be nice and relaxing.

After that, I’m off to Portland, Oregon; a place to which I’ve never been but about which I’ve heard plenty of good things. There’s geek meet up planned for March 24th. Come along for a beer and a chat.

Finally, I’ll finish up in Seattle for the first Event Apart of the year. I have no doubt that the conference will be excellent, as usual. I just hope that the presentation I’ve got planned can meet the high standards set by the other speakers.

If you’re going to be in any of those places—Chicago, Austin, Saint Augustine, Portland, or Seattle—I look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

YouTube - How To Be South By South Best (SXSW Video Guide)

Southby is something of an easy target for ridicule, but this is still mildly amusing.

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Blush°° Bespoke

If you’d like to place your cup of tea on one of these lovely Fontdeck coasters, make sure you get a ticket for the Ampersand conference.

W3C HTML5 Chinese Interest Group

Some excellent cross-polination between HTML5 and internationalisation — remember the other two Ws that come before Web in WWW.

Immaterials: Light painting WiFi on Vimeo

Timo Arnall has some fun mapping WiFi signal strength with long exposure photos.