Archive: August, 2013

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Saturday, August 31st, 2013

Tiny Games for Brighton

Look at the streets of Brighton for some games to play while you’re in town for dConstruct.

Friday, August 30th, 2013

WTF Visualizations

Data visualisations that make no sense.

Progressive Enhancement. Still Alive and Kickin’

Dan explains the reasoning behind his “Sigh, JavaScript” Tumblr blog, and provides an excellent example of progressive enhancement in the process.

Go, Dan, go!

Hatnote Listen to Wikipedia

Wikipedia edits converted into Eno-esque sound.

Better business by design

Some good-lookin’ stats from a responsive redesign:

Total page views, a metric we were prepared to see go down with the redesign, are up by 27%. Unique visitors per week are up 14% on average and visits per week are up on average 23%.

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

intention.js

This smells bad: adding a JavaScript dependency for responsive layouts.

I disapprove.

August in America, day twenty-six

My last day in Chicago was short and uneventful. After a late check-out from the hotel, Jessica and I wandered down to Intelligentsia, had some coffee, wandered off for some lunch, wandered back to Intelligentsia for even more coffee, before wandering back to the hotel to kill time before leaving.

Brad was leaving around the same time so we shared a ride out to the airport, which went pretty smoothly considering Chicago’s infamous traffic. We made it to O’Hare in plenty of time, breezed through security and hung out in the lounge until our flight was ready for boarding.

Thus endeth my August in America.

I’m pleased that I was able to live out of a medium-sized suitcase for such an extended period.

I’m pleased that I didn’t use a byte of data on my phone for the whole trip—the trick with the offline maps helped a lot.

I’m pleased that I was able to keep my promise to myself to document the trip by writing a journal entry every day I was in America …well, except for this one, which I’m writing from my home in Brighton. But hey, 25 out of 26 ain’t bad.

Enabling new types of web user experiences - W3C Blog

Scott gives us an excellent State Of The Web address, looking at how the web can be central to the coming age of ubiquitous computing. He rightly skips through the imitation of native apps and gets down to the potential of just-in-time interactions.

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Simon Stålenhag Art Gallery

Scenes from a future Sweden.

August in America, day twenty-five

Today was the second day of An Event Apart Chicago and I kicked things off with my talk The Long Web. But this time I introduced a new variable into the mix—I played a bit of mandolin.

A Man and His Music: Jeremy Keith at An Event Apart Chicago 2013

It was relevant …honest. I was talking about the redesign and relaunch of The Session, which involved giving a bit of background on traditional Irish music, so it seemed appropriate to demonstrate with a hornpipe. I screwed it up a little bit, but people didn’t seem to mind.

Jeremy Keith at An Event Apart Chicago 2013

Once I was done with my talk, I was able to relax and enjoy an excellent presentation by Adrian on interface details; lots of great food for thought in there.

Once the day was done, myself, Jessica, Jason, Ethan, Brad, Kristina, and Karen made our way to The Purple Pig, where we proceeded to eat all the food. Excellent food and excellent company; a good way to spend my last night in Chicago …and indeed, the United States.

Tomorrow I begin the journey home.

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Sigh, JavaScript

A great little Tumblr blog from Dan Mall: a collection of sites that don’t work at all if JavaScript isn’t available.

‘Sfunny, I was talking about just this kind of thing at An Event Apart today.

The Twittertape Machine

I would love to have a ticker-tape machine for my tweets.

August in America, day twenty-four

Today was the opening day of An Event Apart Chicago so I spent the whole day at the back of the room absorbing the knowledge bombs being dropped.

As usual, the quality of the talks was excellent, and quite a few of them set me up nicely for my talk tomorrow. I’ll be reiterating a lot of what Ethan said about progressive enhancement—no surprise there.

I’m on first thing tomorrow. That’s the hangover slot (thanks for booze, Media Temple). I’m kind of nervous about the talk. Now that I’ve given it once already—at An Event Apart DC earlier this month—I shouldn’t be worried, but I’m going to attempt something a bit new tomorrow. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be left with egg on my face.

Wish me luck.

Monday, August 26th, 2013

August in America, day twenty-three

Powers Of Ten is a remarkable short film created by Charles and Ray Eames in 1968. It deals with scale, going out to the distance of our galactic neighbourhood and down to the Planck measurement.

It all begins in a park in Chicago.

Ever since first seeing the film I thought it would be fun to find the exact spot around which the universe is explored by the Eameses. I also thought I probably wasn’t the first geek to think that. But my preliminary googling didn’t turn up any prior art. So I put the call out on Twitter:

Within minutes, Matthew came through for me:

Although, as Dan pointed out, that opening shot was actually filmed in LA:

The actual live action of the picnic scene was filmed in Los Angeles, where Charles and Ray could oversee all aspects of production for the critical opening moments.

Nonetheless, armed with latitude and longitude coordinates, Jessica and I set out to find the one metre square patch of Chicago that’s used as the starting point for the film. We began the trek from our riverside hotel, stopping for an Intelligentsia coffee along the way, passing by the bean to take obligatory mirror shots, and through Millenium Park down to the Field Museum and the Schedd Aquarium, the perfect spot to stop for a Chicago-style hot dog.

With a bit more walking, we made it to the lat/lon coordinates—a more arboreal location now than it was back when Powers Of Ten was filmed. I did what any self-respecting nerd in my situation would do: I made a new spot on Foursquare.

Mission accomplished. After that, we hopped on a water taxi back up to Navy Pier. This short boat ride made Jessica inordinately happy. It certainly was a lovely day to be out on the water. ‘Though I had to keep reminding myself that we were on a lake, not an ocean.

When we got back to our hotel, we asked at reception if there might be a riverside view that we could move to. There was and we did. Now when we look out of our hotel window, we can see the stunning architecture of downtown Chicago in all its glory.

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

August in America, day twenty-two

I’m back from a lovely evening out with Jared and Jessica, unwinding in my Chicago hotel room after a day of travel.

It began with a journey on the BART to San Francisco airport. Figuring out how to operate the BART ticket machines is always an interesting exercise in bizarro world interface design. But figure it out we did, and Jessica and I made it to the airport in plenty of time …which is just as well, because it took the TSA quite a while to find someone to give me my pat-down when I opted out of using the millimetre wave scanner.

The four hour Virgin America flight to Chicago passed without incident. We had bulkhead seats which meant we could stretch our legs out a little bit more. We ate some snacks. We watched some bad comedies: Identity Thief and The Hangover Part III.

When we arrived in Chicago, there was a car waiting to take us to our hotel: one of the excellent perks provided to speakers at An Event Apart. In mere hours, we made it through rush-hour Chicago traffic to the Westin hotel.

When we were checking in, there was a notice to guests that things might get a little noisy in the early hours of Sunday night and Monday morning. They’re planning to do some helicopter-shot filming for two movies currently in production: Michael Bay’s Transformers 4 and the Wachowski siblings’ Jupiter Ascending. Guests are requested to keep their windows shut.

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

August in America, day twenty-one

I played truant from UX Week this morning to meet up with Mike for a coffee and a chat at Cafe Vega. We were turfed out when the bearded, baseball-capped, Draplinesque barista announced he had to shut the doors because he needed to “run out for some milk.” So we went around the corner to the Code For America office. The place had a layout similar to what we’ve got planned for the new Clearleft building so I immediately starting documenting it with pictures (although it probably looked like I was just trying to sneakily take pictures of Tim O’Reilly).

Office space Office space

After catching up with Mike, I rendezvoused with Jessica back at the hotel and we headed out for lunch at Mel’s diner. The espresso milk shakes there are a must-have on any San Francisco trip I make.

Espresso shakes

Then it was a race against time to try to get to the Mission Bay Conference Center to catch Sophia’s talk at UX Week. She ran the gist of the talk by me yesterday and it sounded great. Alas, I missed the first half of it, but what I caught was reaffirming much of what I was hammering home in my workshops yesterday.

UX Week wrapped up with the inimitable Ze Frank. As I said to Peter afterwards, he’s always reliable but never predictable.

Having said my goodbyes and my thanks to the lovely UX Week people, I met up with Jessica again for a feast of sushi at Hana Zen, right by the hotel. That’s three nights in a row that we’ve had really good asian cuisine downtown: Thai, Chinese, and Japanese.

We finished the evening in good company at the home of young Master Ben, observing the ritual of games night, sipping beers, and resisting the temptation of the cheese.

Tomorrow we depart for Chicago. Farewell, San Francisco; lovely to see you again, as always.

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

August in America, day twenty

As predicted, today’s schedule of two back-to-back half-day workshops at UX Week was indeed quite exhausting. But it was also very rewarding.

Every time I run a workshop, I always end up learning something from the experience and today was no exception. The attendees were a bright bunch with lots of great questions and discussion points.

Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping

Once the workshops were done, I felt pretty exhausted. Jessica and I had a quiet night sampling the culinary delights of M.Y. China conveniently located just across the street from our hotel so I could collapse into bed at the end of the day.

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

August in America, day nineteen

Tomorrow I’m going to be spending all day teaching workshops at UX Week: two back-to-back half-day workshops on Responsive UX. So today I took it easy in preparation for what will probably be a knackering day tomorrow.

Jessica and I moved from Tantek’s place to a downtown hotel near Union Square; like I said, despite the fact that UX Week goes on for four days, they only provide speaker accommodation for three, guaranteeing that speakers won’t be around for the whole event. Very odd.

We checked into the hotel, grabbed some sandwiches and sat out in Yerba Buena park, soaking up some sun. It was a bright blue clear day in San Francisco. After that strenuous activity, we went for a coffee and strolled along Embarcadero, finishing the day with some excellent Thai food …just a harrowing walk through the Tenderloin away.

Now I’m going to fret over my workshop material and have a restless night of stress dreams. Wish me luck!

Double tap delay

Even though my encounter with Ted yesterday was brief, we still managed to turn the conversation to browsers, standards, and all things web in our brief chat.

Specifically, we talked about this proposal in Blink related to the 300 millisecond delay that mobile browsers introduce after a tap event.

Why do browsers have this 300 millisecond delay? Well, you know when you’re looking at fixed-width desktop-based website on a mobile phone, and everything is zoomed out, and one of the ways that you can zoom in to a specific portion of the page is to double tap on that content? A double tap is defined as two taps less than 300 milliseconds apart. So whenever you tap on something in a touch-based browser, it needs to wait for that length of time to see if you’re going to turn that single tap into a double tap.

The overall effect is that tap actions feel a little bit laggy on the web compared to native apps. You can fix this by using the fastclick code from FT Labs, but I always feel weird solving a problem on mobile by throwing more front-end code at it.

Hence the Blink proposal: if the author has used a meta viewport declaration to set width=device-width (effectively saying “hey, I know what I’m doing: this content doesn’t need to be zoomed”), then the 300 millisecond delay could be removed from tap events. Note: this only affects double taps—pinch zoom is unaffected.

This sounds like a sensible idea to me, but Ted says that he sometimes still likes to double tap to zoom even in responsive designs. He’d prefer a per-element solution rather than a per-document meta element. An attribute? Or maybe a CSS declaration similar to pointer events?

I thought for a minute, and then I spitballed this idea: what if the 300 millisecond delay only applied to non-focusable elements?

After all, the tap delay is only noticeable when you’re trying to tap on a focusable element: links, buttons, form fields. Double tapping tends to happen on text content: divs, paragraphs, sections. That’s assuming you are actually using buttons and links for buttons and links—not spans or divs a-la Google.

And if the author decides they want to remove the tap delay on a non-focusable element, they can always make it focusable by adding tabindex=-1 (if that still works …does that still work? I don’t even know any more).

Anyway, that was my not-very-considered idea, but on first pass, it doesn’t strike me as being obviously stupid or crazy.

So, how about it, browser makers? Does removing the 300 millisecond delay on focusable elements—possibly in combination with the meta viewport declaration—make sense?

Is HTML Relevant in the Age of Web Apps? by John Allsopp

John addresses the price of increasing complexity in front-end development.

Yes, tooling can make our life easier. We type fewer keystrokes, and commit more code. But as software engineers learned a long time ago, most of the life of an applications is not in its initial development. It’s in maintaining it. This is something we on the web have had the luxury of being able to largely ignore up to now. After all, how many of the things you build will last years, decades?

Responsive Web Design is Solid Gold

Jason recants on his article from a few years back when he described responsive design as “fool’s gold.”

Responsive web design: it’s solid gold, baby.

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

PRSM - The Sharing Network

Don’t ever worry about not sharing again.

Blogging Ourselves to Live

The internet never forgets? Bollocks!

We were told — warned, even — that what we put on the internet would be forever; that we should think very carefully about what we commit to the digital page. And a lot of us did. We put thought into it, we put heart into, we wrote our truths. We let our real lives bleed onto the page, onto the internet, onto the blog. We were told, “Once you put this here, it will remain forever.” And we acted accordingly.

This is a beautiful love-letter to the archival web, and a horrifying description of its betrayal:

When they’re erased by a company abruptly and without warning, it’s something of a new-age arson.

The apparent difficulty of living in my head, freelancing, working for large organisations and then descending in to paranoia.

I have a lot of admiration for Reverend Dan Catt.

I don’t want to be in a position where I say “Hey, I’m working at Google, no no, don’t worry, the good bit of Google”, because goodness knows I did enough of that at Yahoo.

Edible Geography

I’m not sure how I managed to miss this site up until now, but it’s right up my alley: equal parts urban planning, ethnography, and food science.

Should JavaScript devs build real things?

This post is about the pros and cons of using JavaScript to programme hardware, but within it is a great summation of what makes JavaScript so powerful:

In my opinion the greatest strengths of JavaScript are its immediacy and its accessibility. It has plenty of weakness (insanely weak typing, implicit casting for comparison, terrible problems with numbers, fluid syntax, I could go on…). Regardless, these weaknesses are entirely overcome by those two points above.

Having taught quite a few people to code, the benefit of being able to open a text editor or a browser console and type code that can immediately and reliably be executed is incredible. The power this brings to the learner is unmatched. When trying to learn new things it’s important to get positive reinforcement very quickly and JavaScript has this ability in spades.

Executing console.log(“hello world”) or window.alert(2+5-20) brings immediate feedback, makes you feel as though you’re getting somewhere and that you are interacting directly with the computer as a programmer. For those of you old enough to own a Spectrum, C64 or Vic20 – BASIC (itself heavily derided) had the same benefit.

Kirby – Let’s build a better web

A rallying cry for the Indie Web.

Let’s build this.

August in America, day eighteen

UX Week kicked off today. It’s a four-day event: one day of talks, followed by two days of workshops, followed by another day of talks. I’ll be spending all of the third day doing workshops back-to-back.

Bizarrely, even though it’s a four-day event, they only offer speakers three nights of accommodation. Seems odd to me: I would’ve thought they’d want us to stick around for the whole thing.

So, as I don’t get my hotel room until tomorrow, today I had to make my way from Tantek’s place in the Haight all the way over to the Mission Bay Conference Center—a fairly long MUNI ride. Alas, that meant I missed Steven Johnson’s opening talk. Curses!

Fortunately I did make it time for Ian Bogost’s talk, which was excellent.

In the afternoon, I walked over to Four Barrel, the excellent coffee shop that was celebrating its fifth birthday. They had a balloons, a photo both, a petting zoo, games, and best of all, free coffee. Tom popped by and we had a lovely time chatting in the sun (and drinking free coffee).

Seeing as I was in the Mission anyway, it would’ve been crazy not to have a mission burrito, so a trip to Papalote quickly followed. Best of all, Erin popped by. Then, as we were heading home via Dolores Park, we met up with Ted. Just like I hoped!

The Best Thing I Ever Created by Jeremy Keith on The Shutterstock Blog

Shutterstock are running a series on their blog called “The Best Thing I Ever Created” and they asked me for a contribution. So I wrote about The Session.

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

August in America, day seventeen

Today began bright and early with a delicious breakfast at Zazie. Every other time I’ve been to that place, I’ve had to wait in line for ages because on the weekends, it’s a ridiculously popular spot in Cole Valley. Today, being a Monday, there was no wait at all.

But most of today revolved around a later meal. Cindy and Matt reserved a table at Quince, a swanky restaurant that I knew would be good from seeing Larry’s pictures. The problem was I needed a suitably swanky outfit.

Now, I began this American trip with a decent enough ensemble; my Hiut jeans and a matching typically-flowery shirt. But over the course of my travels, those jeans developed a split, then a hole, then a rip. So I picked up a pair of black trousers when I was in San Diego. That’s all well and good, but my flowery shirt is dark blue …dark blue and black really don’t match. So I needed to find a nice shirt, one that would work with a pair of black trousers, and I needed to find them as soon as possible.

That’s why Jessica and I spent most of the afternoon going up and down Haight Street, popping into every vintage or thrift store we came across. In one of those stores, I found a Ben Sherman shirt. Amazingly, it fit me. Even more amazingly, it was just twelve dollars. Bargain!

I feel like there should be alternative fashion shows, where the models sashay down the catwalk and—upon reaching the end—stop and say, “See this shirt? Twelve bucks! Bargain!”

With my shirt mission fulfilled, I shined my shoes, scrubbed up and headed out with Jessica to rendezvous with Cindy and Matt for an unforgettable evening of excellent food and wine.

Monday, August 19th, 2013

NSA-Proof Your Email! Consider your Man Card Re-Issued. Never be Afraid Again.

We shouldn’t be protecting ourselves. We should be protecting each other.

Before You Know It, Drones Will Be Delivering Packages To Your Door - Business Insider

For some reason, this article on domestic drones is illustrated with a picture of me.

I appear to have become the poster child for terrible business models. Fair enough.

Bruce Lawson’s personal site  : On citing quotations. Again.

The semantics of the cite element are up for discussion again. Bruce, like myself, still thinks that we should be allowed to mark up names with the cite element (as per HTML 4), and also that cite elements should be allowed inside blockquotes to indicate the source of the quote.

Let’s pave that cowpath.

SVG Fallbacks | CSS-Tricks

Alas, that clever SVG fallback trick I linked to a couple of days ago has some unexpected performance side-effects.

August in America, day sixteen

Today was mostly a travel day. The flight from San Diego to San Francisco is a short hop, but when that flight is delayed by two hours, you’re going to spend far longer than intended within the confines of an airport. That’s what happened to me and Jessica today.

Still, it’s not a bad airport as airports go. And as airports go, it went.

With the delayed departure, the flight itself, and then the taxi ride in from the airport, by the time we finally made it to Tantek’s place it was late afternoon. But we were still made it in time for our dinner date with Cindy and Matt, and Daniel and Sharon.

We uber-ed over to Daniel and Sharon’s place (“to uber” is a perfectly cromulent verb in this town). For once, it was a bright, clear day in San Francisco and we were treated to the gorgeous view of the city laid out below us as we went from the Haight to Bernal Heights.

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

My Metaphorical Job Title - That Emil

Get out my head, Emil! This is pretty much exactly how I feel about my work, especially this bit:

In trying to be the best web developer I can, I feel a need to understand the web. That involves a lot of what some of my friends who are not in the web business think my job is about, i.e. “clicking on funny links all day”. I read copiously about new and old technologies. I bookmark them, I try to classify them, see them in the light of history as well as projected future. Follow up on them. Try them out. Even if they’re not specifically about what I do for a living, the nature of them might have a bearing on my understanding of how other people use the web.

August in America, day fifteen

Being a beachy surfer kind of place, it made sense that we spent our last day in San Diego hanging out by the beach. We went to La Jolla. We watched people swim, snorkel, and paddle-board. In amongst the human activity, we also saw the occasional seal pop its head out of the water.

It was another beautiful day in San Diego. It was also my last day in San Diego: tomorrow I head north to San Francisco.

I was all set for another flight until disastrously my Kindle gave up the ghost. The e-ink display is b0rked, permanently showing half of Jane Austen and half of a New Aesthetic glitch. So on the way to dinner at the Stone Brewery this evening, we stopped off at a Best Buy so I could slap down some money to buy a bog-standard non-touch, non-white Kindle.

Imagine my disgust when I get it home, charged it up, connected it to a WiFi network, registered it, and discovered that it comes encumbered with advertising that can’t be switched off (the Amazon instructions for unsubscribing from these “special offers”—by paying to do so—don’t work if your device is registered with a UK Amazon account).

A little bit of Googling revealed that the advertising infestation resides in a hidden folder named /system/.assets. If you replace this folder with an empty file (and keep WiFi switched off by having your Kindle in airplane mode), then the advertising is cast out.

So connect your Kindle—that you bought, with your money—to your Mac, open up the Terminal and type:

cd /Volumes/Kindle/system
rm -r .assets
touch .assets

Now I can continue to read The Shining Girls in peace on my flight to San Francisco tomorrow.

Paying Speakers is Better for Everybody by Andy Budd

I agree completely with Andy on this one:

Want more quality and diversity in your conferences? Pay your speakers.

By pure coincidence, Andy was at a SXSW event in Las Vegas this week.

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

When politicians get the internet wrong, the internet can be ruthless by Caroline Criado-Perez

Oh, dear. An otherwise perfectly well-reasoned article makes this claim:

But the internet is peculiarly adapted to deftly pricking pomposity. This is partly because nothing dies online, meaning your past indiscretions are never yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.

Bollocks. Show me the data to back up this claim.

The insidious truism that “the internet never forgets” is extremely harmful. The true problem is the opposite: the internet forgets all the time.

Geocities, Pownce, Posterous, Vox, and thousands more sites are very much yesterday’s news, wrapped round the proverbial fish and chips.

They’re Using It At Coffee Shops

You can’t demo a digital product without a cup of coffee on a wooden table.

August in America, day fourteen

I remember the first time I was in San Diego in 2008, a bunch of us were hanging out at the Lamplighter, a dive bar that was the scene of my first traumatic karaoke experience. Ted and Erin were extolling the virtues of San Diego. They described it as having all the good aspects of Los Angeles but without the craziness. True enough, San Diego is a pretty laid back place.

Today was a laid back kinda day. Jessica, Jeb and I were in full tourist mode, wandering around the seafront and revisiting the USS Midway. What can I say? I like airplanes. And ships.

We ended the day at a pizza place that I’m pretty sure I’ve been to before. That would’ve been the last time I was in San Diego, which was Halloween 2010. Once again, I met up with Ted and Erin except that this time they were in fancy dress; Scott Pilgrim fancy dress to be precise. Erin cut an impressive figure as Ramona, while Ted came as “Mark Pilgrim as Scott Pilgrim” …possibly the meta-geekiest thing ever.

That was before Ted and Erin up sticks and moved to San Francisco. Coincidentally, San Francisco will be the next stop on my trip so here’s hoping I see them there.

A Timeline made with Timeglider, web-based timeline software

Improve your word power: here’s a timeline of terms used to describe male genitalia throughout history. And yes, there is a female equivalent.

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Guantanamo Bay Through The Eyes Of Artist Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple talks about her experiences sketching at Guantanamo Bay.

America, out of fear after September 11th, imprisoned many innocent men under the most brutal conditions, set up a Kafka-esque legal process that made it very, very hard for them to get their freedom, and is still keeping them there because of fear and political grandstanding.

SVG and image tag tricks

A very, very clever hack to provide fallback images to browsers that don’t support SVG. Smart.

August in America, day thirteen

I’ve been to San Diego twice before. The first time was in 2008 for one of Jared’s conferences that took place on Coronado. The second time was two years later for An Event Apart in 2010. That time I was staying downtime.

This time I’m staying with Jeb in Ocean Beach. I like it here. It’s got a very laid-back feel. People walk down the street with surfboards under their arms. Or else they skate down the street. Probably on their way to get fish tacos. Exceptionally good fish tacos.

Beach scene

As the name suggests, there is a beach here. More importantly, there is a dog beach. A dog beach! A beach where dogs of all shapes and sizes can run free, cavort in the surf and sniff one another’s butts.

I like dog-watching and everyone here has a dog. I particularly like hanging out with these two mutts: Lola and Mesa.

Jeb and Lola Mesa

Like almost everywhere in San Diego, Ocean Beach lies under a flight path—a natural consequence of having your airport right downtown. Jeb told us about “The OB Pause”. That’s when you’re in the middle of a conversation and you pause…

vrrrroooOOOOOOOOoooooommmmm

…and then continue right where you left off once the jet has left your airspace.

The Killing Machines by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic

How to think about drones—an in-depth and fairly balanced article by Mark Bowden on drone strikes and the politics behind them.

In the long run, careful adherence to the law matters more than eliminating another bad actor. Greater prudence and transparency are not just morally and legally essential, they are in our long-term interest, because the strikes themselves feed the anti-drone narrative, and inspire the kind of random, small-scale terror attacks that are bin Laden’s despicable legacy.

Paris Review – “One Murder Is Statistically Utterly Unimportant”: A Conversation with Warren Ellis, Molly Crabapple

Molly Crabapple interviews Warren Ellis. Fun and interesting …much like Molly Crabapple and Warren Ellis.

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Grasshopper Divert | Single Cam - YouTube

Forget Hyperloop: this is some truly mindblowing technology from Elon Musk. In this latest test, the Grasshopper from SpaceX shows off its lateral movement for a reusable rocket.

Combine that with the sheer power of Falcon Heavy and you’ve got some amazing design and engineering.

Ooh, Yay!

This is a great idea—the Brighton Cookbook Club:

You know when you get a new cookbook, but you only ever end up using two or three recipes from it? Coming along to Cookbook Club means that you’ll get to try a whole range of recipes from one book to see what you fancy, maybe broaden your palate, and have a jolly fun evening meeting others while you’re at it!

Science Hack Day San Francisco 2013 Registration, San Francisco - Eventbrite

Registration is now open for Science Hack Day San Francisco at the end of September. Hope to see you there.

JS Bin’s 5th birthday and news

Happy birthday, JS Bin!

Remy has some important news. No, it’s not the competition to recreate animated gifs with canvas; scroll down past that…

Remy will be working on JS Bin full time. To make this possible, JS Bin will have Pro accounts. But don’t worry; all the functionality available today will continue to be available in the future.

But Pro accounts will get a bunch of nifty extra features (and if you’re in education, you get Pro for free).

Sign me up!

The creation of Missile Command and the haunting of its creator, Dave Theurer

The story behind the classic arcade game Missile Command and the toll it took on its creator:

Theurer’s constant strides for perfection left him working his body to the point that Missile Command’s premise started to manifest itself in his subconscious, sneaking into his dreams and turning them to nightmares.

There was something about the sound of those explosions, the feeling of the trackball in your hand, and the realisation that no matter how well you played, you could only delay the inevitable.

THE END

Life Inside Brewster’s Magnificent Contraption « ASCII by Jason Scott

A beauty of a post by Jason giving you even more reasons to donate to Archive.org.

Seriously. Do it now. It would mean a lot to me.

Related: I’m going to be in San Francisco next week and by hook or by crook, I plan to visit the Internet Archive’s HQ.

August in America, day twelve

Today was a travel day, but it was a short travel day: the flight from Tucson to San Diego takes just an hour. It took longer to make the drive up from Sierra Vista to Tucson airport.

And what a lovely little airport it is. When we showed up, we were literally the only people checking in and the only people going through security. After security is a calm oasis, free of the distracting TV screens that plague most other airports. Also, it has free WiFi, which was most welcome. I’m relying on WiFi, not 3G, to go online on this trip.

I’ve got my iPhone with me but I didn’t do anything to guarantee myself a good data plan while I’m here in the States. Honestly, it’s not that hard to not always be connected to the internet. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. To avoid accidentally using data and getting charged through the nose for it, you can go into the settings of your iPhone and under General -> Cellular, you can switch “Cellular Data” to “off”. Like it says, “Turn off cellular data to restrict all data to Wi-Fi, including email, web browsing, and push notifications.”
  2. If you do that, and you normally use iMessage, make sure to switch iMessage off. Otherwise if someone with an iPhone in the States sends you an SMS, you won’t get it until the next time you connect to a WiFi network. I learned this the hard way: it happened to me twice on this trip before I realised what was going on.
  3. I use Google Maps rather than Apple Maps. It turns out you can get offline maps on iOS (something that’s been available on Android for quite some time). Open the Google Maps app while you’re still connected to a WiFi network; navigate so that the area you want to save is on the screen; type “ok maps” into the search bar; now that map is saved and zoomable for offline browsing.

Why a New Golden Age for UI Design Is Around the Corner

A state of the connected union address, with soundbites from smart people in the world of ubicomp, internet of things, everyware, or whatever it is we’re calling it now.

Technical Machine

This looks rather exciting: Tessel is Rasperry Pi-like piece of hardware, but running JavaScript (Node.js) by default.

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

This charming charlie

In an extension of the “Christ, what an asshole!” theory of comics, here we see Peanuts captioned entirely with lyrics from The Smiths.

Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet

A profile of the Indie Web movement in Wired.

Go! Fight! Win!

If this sounds like your kind of hackery, be sure to come along to Indie Web Camp UK in Brighton right after dConstruct.

August in America, day eleven

Sierra Vista is located just a few miles to north of Mexico. If you’re driving up to Benson or Tucson, you can expect to be stopped by the border police. Please have your papers ready for inspection.

Border patrol check point, 1 mile

Most days, a tethered unmanned blimp hovers over the mountains to the south of Sierra Vista. On some nights, you can see the light of a drone traversing the air above the border.

Sierra Vista is also home to an army base, hence the occasional helicopters and aircraft.

Tomorrow we leave for San Diego, right next to the border with Tijuana.

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Anton Peck Illustration - Gather eBook

You can download the PDF of Anton’s graphic novel Gather for free.

Google Fiber Continues Awful ISP Tradition of Banning “Servers”

We have lost an ally in the fight to maintain net neutrality. I wonder how Vint Cerf feels about his employer’s backtracking.

The specific issue here is with using a home computer as a server. It’s common for ISPs to ban this activity, but that doesn’t change the fact that it flies in the face of the fundamental nature of the internet as a dumb network.

I think the natural end point to owning your own data is serving your own data—something that Steven Pemberton talked about in his fateful talk.

We must fight these attempts to turn the internet into controlled system of producers and consumers.

Fat pipe. Always on. Get out of the way

Human Interest by Trent Walton

Trent proposes a way to avoid implementing dark patterns: take a leaf from the progressive enhancement playbook and assume the worst conditions for your user’s context.

The perils at Great Falls - Washington Post

On the one hand, this is yet another Snowfall clone. On the other hand, the fact that it’s responsive is impressive.

Surfin’ Safari - Blog Archive » Improved support for high-resolution displays with the srcset image attribute

WebKit nightlies now have support for srcset. I’m pleased to see that it’s currently constrained to just handling the case of high-density displays; it doesn’t duplicate the media query functionality of picture.

I’ve always maintained that the best solution to responsive images will be some combination of srcset and picture: they each have their strengths and weaknesses. The “art direction” use case is better handled by picture, but the “retina” use case is better handled by srcset.

Federated uncertainty

Stuart nails it: the real problem with delegating identity is not what some new app will do with your identity details, it’s what the identity provider—Twitter, Google, Facebook—will do with the knowledge that you’re now using some new app.

This is why I want to use my own website as my identity provider.

Galaxy Zoo Quench

This is quite remarkable. Now that the Galaxy Zoo project from Zooniverse has successfully classified all its data (already a remarkable achievement), its volunteers are now collaborating on writing a scientific paper.

There’s something going on here. This isn’t just a “cool” or “cute” link—this is the first stirring of something entirely new that is made possible by network technology.

Line-mode browser dev days participants announced

These are the lovely and talented people who will be joining me at CERN for two days of historical hackery.

The House Of Lockwood

The Internet, day one. A sad tale of data loss.

August in America, day ten

Today was another sunny day in Arizona.

I saw a snake; it had a rattle. I admired prickly pear cacti, and when I picked up a prickly pear that had fallen to the ground, I discovered exactly why it’s called a prickly pear.

Prickly pear cactus

But I spent much of this sunny Arizona day in the dark.

We went to Kartchner Caverns, a series of limestone caves fifty mega-years old. It was quite beautiful.

The caverns might be ancient, but the state park is relatively young. The caves were first discovered in 1974. The story of what happened next is quite fascinating. The cavers who discovered the caverns teamed up with the landowner to negotiate with the State about creating a publicly-accessible state park (negotiations that had to happen in secret so that the caverns wouldn’t be despoiled if word got out).

They had come to the conclusion that the best chance of preserving the caverns was not to keep them secret, but to make them public under appropriate stewardship. It reminded me of the mantra of the Internet Archive:

Access drives preservation.

EIRE signs of WW II | GPS of the past

A fascinating project to document markings from 1939—designed to be visible from the air—placed all around the Irish coast.

BBC - Blogs - Adam Curtis - BUGGER

Adam Curtis usually just pours forth apopheniac ramblings, but this is a really great collection of pieces from the archive on the history of incompetence in the spying world.

Y’know, the best explanation I’ve heard so far of the NSA and GCHQ’s sinister overreaching powers is simply that they need to come up with bigger and bigger programmes to justify getting bigger and bigger budgets. Hanlon’s Law, Occam’s Razor, and all that.

▶ 100 Robots - Spaceteam - YouTube

See that helmet? That’s my helmet. Jim borrowed it for this video.

And now I think that the Future Friendly posse has a theme song.

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you - Coding 2 Learn

This is a really well-written and worrying piece that pokes at that oft-cited truism about kids today being “digital natives”:

The parents seem to have some vague concept that spending hours each evening on Facebook and YouTube will impart, by some sort of cybernetic osmosis, a knowledge of PHP, HTML, JavaScript and Haskell.

The causes of this lack of digital literacy can be traced back to school:

We’ve mirrored corporate networks, preventing kids and teachers access to system settings, the command line and requiring admin rights to do almost anything. They’re sitting at a general purpose computer without the ability to do any general purpose computing.

Also, this article has the best “TL;DR” description ever.

A Breathing Earth

Beautiful animated GIFs showing the lungs of our planet.

This Recycling Bin Is Stalking You by Siraj Datoo in The Atlantic Cities

I, for one, welcome our new recycling bin panopticon overlords.

You might want to put your phone’s MAC address into this form.

August in America, day nine

Today was a day of rest. And in Arizona, that means lounging in or near the swimming pool.

Thanks to recently-installed solar panels on the roof, the water was nice and warm. Jessica did laps of the pool, while I splashed around spasmodically. Y’see, I can’t actually swim. Yes, I grew up by the sea, but you have to understand; that sea was bloody freezing.

So now I’m trying to figure out this whole swimming thing from first principles, but I’m not sure my brain has enough plasticity left to grasp the coordination involved. Still, it’s fun to attempt to swim, no matter how quixotic the goal.

It’s monsoon season in southern Arizona right now, meaning it’s almost certain to rain sometime in the afternoon. That’s why we got our swimming activities done early. Sure enough, thunder clouds started rolling in, but there wasn’t much rain in the end.

Clouds Clouds at sunset

Fortunately the clouds had mostly dissipated by the time the sun went down, so a few hours later, when we went outside to look up and search the starry sky for the Perseids, we got to see a few pieces of Swift-Tuttle streaking across the firmament.

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

August in America, day eight

Today was a travel day. It was time to leave our most excellent hosts in Philadelphia and make our way to Jessica’s parents in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

I spent most of the travel time with my headphones on, listening to music and reading on my Kindle. I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a thoroughly enjoyable—if not exactly tightly-plotted—romp around the solar system, and started in on Lauren’s latest, The Shining Girls. It’s a real page-turner. Or, in the case of the Kindle, a real button-pusher.

For take-off and landing, headphones and Kindles have to be stowed so I always make sure I’ve got a good ol’ dead-tree tome with me on any plane journey. On this occasion I started into a copy Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge that I picked up at a second-hand bookstore in Alexandria earlier this week.

There was no direct way to get from Philadelphia to Tucson, the nearest airport to Sierra Vista. Layovers were inevitable. We flew with Delta, which meant that our layover would be at their hub in Atlanta.

The flight from Philly to Atlanta was pretty straightforward, but we could see storm clouds brewing. After a stopover in Atlanta for a couple of hours, we continued on to Tucson, by which time the storm clouds were brewed and angry.

Clouds

As we chased the sunset, we flew over a landscape of explosions in the sky. Dark cloudscapes erupted with light every minute or so. It looked like a bombardment of multiple timezones. At one point, Jessica saw a shooting star. It was as if the Perseids were MIRVing to deliver angry payloads of light flashes while we flew unscathed above it all.

Explosions in the sky

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

August in America, day seven

Today was another day of excellent perambulations around Philadelphia. This time Jessica and I went to the Italian market featured so heavily in Rocky. Then we wandered up to Reading Terminal Market and took in the tastes and smells. Who knew the Amish made such good doughnuts?

But the main event of this day, this week, and indeed, this month, was the PPC: Philly Pizza Club. This involves the consumption of pizza and many varieties of beer.

Beer 1: Oberon Summer Ale Beer 2: Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale Beer 3: Flying Fish Red Fish Beer 4: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA Beer 5: Red Hook ESB

The beer was necessary because the other the portion of PPC is the entertainment. And I use the term loosely. This evening’s “entertainment” was the classic 1987 film Miami Connection.

It was the best crossover ’80s rock ninja movie I’ve ever seen.

Friday, August 9th, 2013

August in America, day six

Jessica and I spent today in full-on tourist mode in Philadelphia, walking its streets and exploring its rich heritage.

Philadelphia, home to the Liberty Bell and the American constitution; the city where the founding fathers toiled at their work, forging a revolution and a country; home to the country’s first library and its first bank; in many ways, the birthplace of the modern world.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. Here’s the important part: today I had my first ever Philly cheesesteak.

Every Philadelphian has a very strong opinion about where the best cheesesteak in the city is to be had, and we went with a highly-recommended, very popular spot: Jim’s. There was a line out the door. This is a daily occurrence.

Jessica at Jim's

When you eventually get to the point of ordering, you are strongly encouraged to quickly and clearly state your cheese choice and onion preference (a Boolean value). Then you pay. Then you find a seat, if you’re lucky. Then you eat.

State your cheese Cheese steak

On the recommendation of the internet, I went with the cheese wiz option. Technically, I’m not even sure if it’s actually a cheese. But boy, it sure works a treat in combination with the delicious beef and onions. The cheese wiz acted as a mayonnaise-like lubricant as well as a flavour ingredient. All in all, it was absolutely superb. If all cheesesteaks are this good, I can understand this city’s pride in—and obsession with—its contribution to the sandwich world.

After that we wandered around and took in the sights until it was time to meet up with Jenn and Sutter for a beer at sunset while watching an infinite supply of joggers run up the Rocky steps and raise their arms in the air at the summit.

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The Pastry Box Project | 8 August 2013, baked by Viviana Doctorovich

Empathy is for everyone:

No matter how many times I go through this journey, it never stops surprising me how easy it is to lose perspective in the heat of a project and forget that there is no difference between a user, a client and a designer. It shouldn’t be so hard to remember that no matter the title, we’re all just people trying to get things done.

A nice reminder from Viv.

Reflections on An Event Apart DC 2013

Jason pulls together some of the themes that emerged at An Event Apart DC this week.

The dConstruct 2012 website

I got an email recently from the guys at Cyber Duck asking me about the process behind the dConstruct 2012 website, beautifully designed by Bevan. Ethan actually used it as an example in his An Event Apart talk earlier this week. Anyway, here’s what I wrote…

The dConstruct conference takes place on the first Friday of September every year, and every year the conference has a different theme. That theme then influences the visual design of the site. To start with, we throw up a quick holding page and then, once we’ve got our speakers all set, we launch the site proper, usually a month or so before tickets go on sale.

At Clearleft, we believe very strongly in the universality of the web. We wanted the information on the 2012 dConstruct website to be available to anybody with an internet connection, no matter what kind of device or browser they’re using. That does not mean that the site should look and behave exactly the same in every browser or on every device. That isn’t practical. Nor is it desirable, in my opinion. Better browsers should be rewarded with a better experience. But every browser should be able to access the content. The best way to achieve that balance is through progressive enhancement. Responsive web design—when it’s done mobile first—is an excellent example of progressive enhancement in action.

The theme for dConstruct 2012 was “Playing With The Future”. It would be easy to go overboard with a visual design based on that theme, so we made sure to reign things in a bit and keep it fairly subtle. The colour scheme evolved from previous years, going in a more pastel direction. The use of Futura for headline text was the biggest change.

Those colours (muted green, red, and blue) carried through to the imagery. In the case of a conference website, the imagery is primarily photographs of speakers. That usually means JPEGs and sometimes those JPEGs can get pretty weighty. In this case, the monochrome nature of the images meant that we could use PNGs. Not only that, but through a little experimentation, we were able to get away with sometimes using as few as 16 colours for the PNG. That meant the file sizes could be nice and small. The average speaker photo was around 12K in weight.

Each speaker photo is 200x200 pixels in size. Now, you might think that we’d want to make those bigger as we moved up from small screen sizes to larger, desktop sizes. But actually, because the layout changes to put more of the photos side-by-side as the viewport gets larger, there was no need to do any clever responsive image-swapping. Instead, we spent that time getting the images as small in file size as we possibly could. The ImageOptim app for Mac is very handy for helping with this.

There are also some background images (for social media icons, background textures, and the like). These were all Base 64-encoded into the stylesheet to avoid extra HTTP requests.

The priority was very much on keeping things speedy. When talking about responsive design, there’s a lot of emphasis on layout but actually that was a relatively straightforward part of the 2012 dConstruct site: there’s nothing too complicated going on there. Instead, the focus was on performance balanced with a striking visual design.

On the individual speaker pages, there’s a bit of conditional loading going on. For example, most pages include a link to a video on YouTube or Vimeo. On larger screen sizes, there’s a bit of JavaScript to pull in that video and display it right on the page. Crucially, this JavaScript runs after the rest of the document has already loaded so it won’t block the rendering. The end result is that everyone has access to the video: on smaller screens, it’s available by following a link; on larger screens, it’s available in situ.

JavaScript is only ever used to enhance, never as a requirement for core functionality. The navigation, for example, has a nice toggle-to-reveal behaviour on small screens if JavaScript is available. But if JavaScript isn’t available or doesn’t load for some reason, then the navigation is simply visible by default. It’s important to consider safe defaults before adding behavioural enhancements.

In retrospect, it probably would’ve made more sense to simply inline the JavaScript at the bottom of each page: the external file isn’t very big at all, and that extra HTTP request could’ve been saved.

There were some other things that could’ve been done better: some of the images might have been better as SVG (the logo, for example). But all those lessons were carried forward and so the site for dConstruct 2013 is even snappier and more performant.

August in America, day five

This morning, Jessica and I left Alexandria, but not by plane. No, we travelled by a more elegant transport from a more civilised age. We took the train. In just a few short, fairly comfortable wifi-assisted hours, we arrived in Philadelphia.

Ah, Philadelphia! It’s my first time in the city of brotherly love, though of course I’ve seen it depicted in many films. Why, the very train station we arrived at was the scene of the opening murder in Witness. Then there’s Rocky, Mannequin, National Treasure, everything ever made by M. Knight Shyamalan, and of course, Philadelphia.

Jenn showed us around her neighbourhood, and we grabbed a coffee at a suitably hipsterish café where the music was either from the 80s or completely new but heavily inspired by the 80s.

The plan for the evening was to go to a baseball game. When in Rome. But alas, the weather was too treacherous to trust so we went to a bar and participated in a pub quiz instead, ably assisted by the internet’s Kevin Cornell.

During the course of the quizzical proceedings, we all partook in a round of picklebacks. Jenn had previously familiarised me with the concept. A pickleback consists of a shot of Irish whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice. The theory is that the pickle juice completely erases any trace of the whiskey you’ve just knocked back. I, however, was very sceptical of the whole idea. It just sounded disgusting to me. I mean, Irish whiskey? Really? Ugh!

The pickle juice, on the other hand, was delicious.

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

The Pastry Box Project | 7 August 2013, baked by Karen McGrane

Preach it, Karen!

“Why would someone ever want to do that?” is the wrong question. It doesn’t matter why they want to do it. The fact is that people do. The right question, the one that we all should be asking, is “how can we make a better experience for them?”

Design Jargon Bullshit

Fodder for a Markov chain.

Unmoored

James re-imagines the Barbican as an airship drifting free of central London.

August in America, day four

Today was day two of An Event Apart DC and I opened up the show. I was very nervous because this was a brand new talk. I wasn’t sure whether I would come in way under time, or way over time, or whether anybody would be interested in the subject matter.

As it turned out, the timing was okay. I got through a lot of stuff faster than I was expecting, so that left me time for a good ol’ rant towards the end of the talk. I ranted about progressive enhancement. I ranted about digital preservation. I ranted about “the cloud”. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people think I’m an angry person (I’m really not; honest).

It seemed like people really enjoyed the talk. There were lots of positive tweets and lots of people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the “big picture” nature of my talk. But I’m not going to be complacent about it: a few years ago at An Event Apart in Boston I gave a less technical talk than usual and it seemed like people really liked it (positive tweets, kind words, etc.) …but then when the feedback surveys were totted up, I ended up getting the lowest rank I had ever received. So time will tell what the audience really thought of my talk today.

In any case, I enjoyed it. As usual, I just got up on stage and geeked out for an hour to a captive audience about stuff that really excites me. How cool is that?

I was glad to have the talk done. Afterwards I could relax and enjoy all the other talks, and have a bit of a chat with some of the smart and friendly attendees.

Now that the conference is over, it’s time for me to depart Alexandria. Next stop: Philadelphia.

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

The Ecuadorian Library by Bruce Sterling

A good ol’ fashioned rant.

stevenberlinjohnson.com: How We Got To Now

This sounds like it’s a going to be a good: a new TV series by Steven Johnson on the history of technology and innovation. Sounds very Burkian, which is a very good thing.

We Need More Communism by Scott Jenson

A terrific lighting talk by Scott on the need to think bigger. The solution to long-term issues is rarely “start a company”—we need to think more about creating a shared infrastructure …just like the internet.

Chrome’s insane password security strategy by Elliott Kember

A description of the shockingly cavalier attitude that Chrome takes with saved passwords:

Today, go up to somebody non-technical. Ask to borrow their computer. Visit chrome://settings/passwords and click “show” on a few of the rows. See what they have to say.

LukeW | An Event Apart: The Long Web

Luke’s notes from my talk at An Event Apart DC.

Sketchnotes: The Long Web

Jason Garber took some nicely-hyperlinked notes during my presentation at An Event Apart DC.

August in America, day three

It was a beautiful day today but I spent most of it indoors. Today was the first day of An Event Apart DC here in Alexandria. As usual, the standard of talks was ludicrously high.

An Event Apart often feels like getting a snapshot of the current state of web technologies and best practices. I really like it when themes emerge from multiple talks—those emergent themes are usually the hot topics of modern web design and development. Today I felt like there were two prominent themes:

  1. process and
  2. devices.

Both Samantha and Jason talked about process and workflow from different perspectives. I had seen Jason’s talk at New Adventures in Nottingham but he’s such a joy to listen to, I gladly soaked it up again. Listening to Samantha reinforced my opinion that she’s one of the smartest designers working today. I found myself nodding my head enthusiastically during both talks.

Luke and Grigs both showed us what an amazingly diverse set of devices we have to deal with these days. I know that some people find this situation depressing, but I find it quite energising. Let’s face it, the web was getting pretty boring there for a while a few years back. You certainly can’t say that about the current browser/device landscape.

Rounded out with Jeffrey and Karen’s content-focused calls-to-arms—one at the start of the day and the other at the end—it was a great day one.

I’m speaking first thing tomorrow. That’s right; I’ve got the hangover slot.

This is a brand new untested talk. I had planned to give a run-through to the guys at Clearleft but somehow that never happened, so tomorrow will literally be the very first time I’m giving this talk. That gives it a certain frisson and adds an air of excitement and tension. It also means I’m very, very nervous.

I think it’s a good talk …but I’m not sure how it’s going to go down with this crowd. While it will have some practical tips scattered throughout, it’s mostly going to be a fairly personal talk about a personal project that I’m using as a lens to look at long-term web design and development. That might put some people off, who would rightly argue that it isn’t directly applicable to their day-to-day work, but I’m just going to have to accept that. It’s going to be interesting to see what people make of it.

I’m excited and nervous. I probably won’t get much sleep tonight.

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Webby Podcasts

A handy collection of links to web-related podcasts. Go forth and huffduff.

Android Fragmentation Report July 2013 - OpenSignal

A look at the degree of diversity in Android devices, complete with pretty pictures. The term “fragmentation” is usually used in a negative way, but there are great points here about the positive effects for web developers and customers.

You say fragmentation, I say diversity.

Not Real Programming by John Allsopp

A terrific long-zoom look at web technologies, pointing out that the snobbishness towards declarative languages is a classic example of missing out on the disruptive power of truly innovative ideas …much like the initial dismissive attitude towards the web itself.

August in America, day two

Once I knew I was going to be speaking at An Event Apart DC, I got in touch with my dear friends Dan and Sue in Baltimore to see if we could figure out a way to meet up while I was relatively nearby. I went to art college with Dan over two decades ago. I haven’t kept in touch with many (any?) people from back then, but Dan and I have remained firm friends, sadly separated by an ocean.

Dan told me his plan for today was for him and Sue to take the kids down to his Dad and stepmother’s place in Calvert county, and he asked if Jessica and I wanted to join them. “Absolutely!”, I said, without knowing anything about Calvert county or what a trip there might involve.

As it turns out, this particular place in Maryland was a little piece of paradise: a beautiful pastoral setting where the green landscape and blue sky is interrupted only by the flitting by of the occasional gorgeous-looking butterfly. Also, it has a pool.

Butterflies

This setting was already perfect, but we made it the quintessential Maryland experience by feasting on crabs for lunch. Sure, you’ve got to work to get at the flesh, but oh, what tasty flesh it is, redolent with Old Bay seasoning.

Crabs

It was a perfect afternoon: eating crabs, swimming in the pool, and most of all, catching up with old friends.

I was still basking in the glow of it all when we got back to Alexandria in time for the traditional pre-conference speaker’s dinner for An Event Apart. I never even had the chance to freshen up before heading out for the meal: as soon as we got back to the hotel, we spotted Ethan, Kristina, and Karen in the hotel bar and that was it. We joined them, then Jason joined us, then one-by-one everyone else showed up. The whole thing coalesced into the gang of speakers and off we went for a meal in old town. Once again, it was all about the company.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

August in America, day one

It’s Pride weekend in Brighton but alas, I wasn’t able to stick around for the festivities. I made my way to Heathrow for the flight to Washington to kick off my American trip.

The flight from Heathrow to Dulles takes just about eight hours. The average in-flight film is just under two hours, so you might think that this would be a four-film flight. But when you factor in the take-off and landing phases, it’s actually more like three films with a little bit of TV to top it off.

I have some ideas about what makes a good airplane movie. You don’t want to watch anything that’s too good; you’ll just be annoyed that you saw it on a little screen on an airplane seat instead of on a big screen in a cinema. But you don’t want to watch anything that’s too crap because, well, it’s crap. So what you want is a down-the-middle three-star pleasingly mediocre movie.

I watched Oblivion, Iron Man Three, and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Pretty good airplane films, all around. Actually, I ended up enjoying Oblivion far more than I was expecting (probably because my expectations had been quite low).

With the flight time whiled away nicely, Jessica and I arrived into Dulles at six in the evening, and what a nice warm evening it was too.

The lovely people running An Event Apart really know how to take care of their speakers and that includes a car service to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel. That makes such a big difference after a long transatlantic flight.

In this case, the ride from the airport to the hotel was a fairly lengthy one: Dulles is a good forty minutes away from Alexandria. So we settled in and enjoyed the scenery …what there was of it. The route was mostly filled with “nothing to see here” buildings. I’m guessing that Virginia has more than its fair share of windowless bunker-like buildings—this is, after all, the Lothlorien of the internet in America, where the backbone meets the server farms. Looking for “The Cloud”? It’s probably somewhere in Virginia.

As we’re being driven to our destination, I turn to Jessica and I say:

Chicken wings.

You have to understand, I have this weird travel-triggered craving. Whenever I fly to the United States of America, I get the urge to have my first meal on American soil be …yes, you guessed it, chicken wings. I have no idea why this is or when it started. And it’s not like I usually crave chicken wings all that often (not that I’d be able to get proper Buffalo style wings in the UK anyway).

Once we’re settled into our hotel room, we do a little bit of research and start walking the streets of Old Town Alexandria in search of the Hard Times Cafe. We find it. We get a table. We get some beers. I get my wings. They taste good. They taste really, really good.

I should have just left it at chicken wings, but they specialise in chili. I couldn’t resist.

So now I’m back at the hotel, and I’m stuffed full of beer, chicken wings, and chili. This strikes me as an eminently suitable way to begin my American sojourn.

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

The United States of August

I’m going to be in the States for most of this month.

See, I’m speaking at An Event Apart DC in a couple of days, which is the first week of August. I’ll also speaking at An Event Apart Chicago in the last week of August. With such a short span of time between the two of events, I figured it wasn’t really worth flying across the Atlantic, flying back, flying over again, flying back again…

I looked around to see if there were any other events going on in between the two Events Apart and saw that UX Week was happening in San Francisco right before the Chicago AEA. I offered my services for a workshop, they readily accepted, and that sealed the deal: August was definitely going to be spent stateside.

My travel plans within the States look like this:

  • Alexandria, Virginia;
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  • Sierra Vista, Arizona;
  • San Diego, California;
  • San Francisco, California;
  • Chicago, Illinois.

If you’re going to be in any of those locations, let me know and maybe our paths can cross.

Bye, bye, Brighton. See you again for the first week of September.

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Brighton in September

dConstruct is now exactly five weeks away. To say that I am excited would be quite an understatement.

I am insanely excited about this year’s dConstruct. I think the line-up is quite something—a non-stop parade of fantastic speakers. And the speakers themselves are equally excited, spurred on by the excellent company they’ll be keeping. Seriously, this is going to be an amazing day.

I’m also excited about all the other events happening around dConstruct as part of the Brighton Digital Festival.

The first week of September will kick off with the Reasons To Be Creative conference: three days of three tracks of all sorts of design and code.

Reasons finishes on Wednesday, September 4th, which is the same day that Seb will be running his fantastic CreativeJS workshop. I took this workshop myself a few months back and I can’t recommend it highly enough—you’ll come away feeling like you’re superpowered. Seb is a great teacher. And don’t be put off by the whiff of coding; this workshop is for everyone. In fact, I think designers with very little experience of code would be best served by it.

There are still some tickets available for Seb’s workshop and remember that booking onto the workshop also gets a complementary pass to the dConstruct conference day as well.

In between Seb’s workshop and the dConstruct conference proper, there’s Improving Reality, that wonderful conference on technology and culture curated by Lighthouse in Brighton. I’ve really, really enjoyed the last two years so I’m going to be there again this time ‘round on Thursday, September 5th.

Then right after dConstruct, there’s a weekend of good stuff happening over the Saturday and Sunday:

  • Brighton Mini Maker Faire — a day of interactive exhibitions on the Saturday followed by a workshops and panels on the Sunday. There’ll be talks and panels on the Saturday too, including a panel moderated by Maggie Philbin!
  • The Big Sussex Market will be running all weekend as part of the Brighton and Hove Food Festival. This will be on New Road, right by the Brighton Dome where Maker Faire will be happening.
  • Indie Web Camp will also be running all weekend, just round the corner at Lighthouse. This little gathering is something very dear to my heart. I was talking about just the other day on the Breaking Development podcast.

Phew! That’s quite a full dance card.

If you’ve got a ticket for dConstruct, remember that as per the terms and conditions, if you need to cancel or transfer the ticket you’ve only got one more week to do so.

If you haven’t got a ticket for dConstruct, what are you waiting for?

See you in Brighton in September.

UX secrets revealed - Features - Digital Arts

I was interviewed for this article on psychology in web design. The title is terrible but the article itself turned out quite nicely.

Being Practical - TimKadlec.com

Yet another timely reminder from Tim, prompted by the naysayers commenting on his previous excellent post on progressive enhancement, universal access, and the nature of the web.

The Future of Programming

A wonderful presentation by time-traveller Bret Viktor.

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Create a responsive ad unit - AdSense Help

Looks like Google are offering responsive (or at least adaptive) ad sizes.

Crippling the web - TimKadlec.com

A great call-to-arms from Tim, simply asking that we create websites that take advantage of the amazing universality of the web:

The web has the power to go anywhere—any network, any device, any browser. Why not take advantage of that?

Inevitably there is pushback in the comments from developers still in the “denial” stage of coming to terms with what the web is.