Archive: April, 2014

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Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Staring down colliders

Craig recounts the time we visited the LHCb at CERN. It’s a lovely bit of writing. I wish it were on his own website.

Paul Downey - just doodling - YouTube

A lovely little profile of Paul and his sketches.

The Web Is Agreement! The URI Is The Thing!

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Incomplete List of Mistakes in the Design of CSS [CSS Working Group Wiki]

I think I concur with this list. Although I guess it’s worth remembering that, given the size of the CSS spec, this isn’t an overly-long list.

It’s interesting that quite a few of them are about how things are named. It’s almost as if that’s one of the, say, two hardest things in computer science.

The Cassette Tape as Responsive Design

This is an interesting observation about the design of cassette inlays. It reminds of Paul’s presentation at the Responsive Day Out when he looked at the “responsiveness” of television idents.

Why the Indie Web movement is so important

Well, this is pretty bloody brilliant—Dan Gillmor has published an article on Slate about the Indie Web movement …but the canonical URL is on his own site.

We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks – that would be you and me – don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate.

This isn’t a knock on social networks’ legitimacy, or their considerable utility. But when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work, material that exists on their sites only as long as they allow.

Where Time Comes From on Vimeo

A profile of Demetrios Matsakis, keeper of time at U.S. Naval Observatory, America’s equivalent to Greenwich in its importance for timekeeping in the modern world.

And They All Look Just the Same

Greg isn’t just lamenting a perceived “sameness” in web design here. He’s taking a long-zoom view and pointing out that there’s always a sameness …and you can choose to go along with it or you can choose to differentiate.

Analytical

When I was talking about Huffduffer, I mentioned that I don’t have any analytics set up for the site:

To be honest, I’m okay with that—one of the perks of having a personal project is that only metric that really matters is your own satisfaction.

For a while, I did have Google Analytics set up on The Session. But I started to feel a bit uncomfortable about willingly opening up a wormhole between my site and the Google mothership. It bothered me that Adblock Plus would show that one ad had been blocked on the site. There are no ads on the site, but the presence of the Google Analytics code was providing valuable information to Google—and its advertiser customer base—so I can understand why it gets flagged up like any other unwanted tracking.

Theoretically, users have a way of opting out of this kind of tracking by switching on the Do Not Track header (if it isn’t switched on by default). Looking at the default JavaScript code that Google provides for setting up Google Analytics, I don’t see any mention of navigator.doNotTrack.

Now, it may well be that Google sniffs for that header (and abandons any tracking) when its server is pinged via the analytics code, but there’s no way to tell from this side of the Googleplex. I certainly don’t see any mention of it in the JavaScript that gets inserted into our web pages.

I was wondering whether it makes sense to explictly check for the doNotTrack header before opening up that connection to google-analytics.com via a generated script element.

So if the current code looks like:

<script>
// generate a script element
// point it to google-analytics.com
</script>

Would it make sense to wrap it with some kind of test for navigator.doNotTrack:

<script>
if (!navigator.doNotTrack || navigator.doNotTrack != 'yes') {
// generate a script element
// point it to google-analytics.com
}
</script>

For the love of mercy, don’t actually use that code—it’s completely untested and probably causes more harm than good. But you can see the idea that I’m trying to get at, right? Google Analytics most definitely counts as tracking so it seems like the ideal use-case for Do Not Track.

It raises a few questions:

  1. Is anyone doing this already? It might well be that the answer is “no”, not because of any reluctance to respect user preferences but because the doNotTrack spec is very much in flux.
  2. Would you consider doing this?
  3. If you were to do this, could you foresee getting pushback from within your own company?

Huffduff up and up

I had a nice Skype chat with Stan Alcorn yesterday all about Huffduffer, online sharing of audio, and all things podcasty and radioish. I’m sure I must have talked his ear off.

Stan was asking about numbers for Huffduffer’s user base and activity. I have to admit that I’ve got zero analytics running on the site. To be honest, I’m okay with that—one of the perks of having a personal project is that only metric that really matters is your own satisfaction. But I told Stan I’d run some quick database queries to get some feeling for Huffduffer’s usage patterns. Here’s what I found…

There are 5,862 people signed up to Huffduffer.

About 150,919 items have been huffduffed. But those aren’t unique files. The total number of distinct files that have been huffduffed is 5,972. That means that, on average, an audio file is huffduffed around 26 times. And the average user has huffduffed around 30 items. But neither of those distributions would be evenly distributed; they’d be power-law distributions rather than bell curves. For example, the most popular file was huffduffed 329 times.

Looking at the amount of items huffduffed each year, there’s a pleasing upward trend.

1st year 7,382
2nd year 19,080
3rd year 23,403
4th year 31,808
5th year 41,514

I was pleasantly surprised by this. I would’ve assumed that Huffduffer usage would be more of a steady-state affair, but it looks like the site is getting used a bit more with each passing year (the site is currently in its sixth(!) year).

Not that any of that really matters. I built Huffduffer to scratch my own itch. I huffduff an average of 411 audio files each year. So even if nobody else used Huffduffer, it would still provide plenty of value to me.

Like I was saying to Stan, the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of audio—as opposed to text or video—is that you can listen to it while your doing other things. For some people, car journeys are the perfect podcast time. For others, it might be doing the dishes or train journeys. For me, it’s the walk to and from work each day—it takes about 35 minutes each way, and I catch up on my Huffduffer feed during that time.

Jessica and I will often listen to some spoken word audio in the background during dinner—usually something quite radio-y like Radiolab, or NPR stories. Yesterday, we were catching up with Aleks’s BBC documentary series, The Digital Human. It was the episode about voice.

Imagine my surprise when I heard the voice of Stan Alcorn. What a co-inky-dink!

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Anti-Net-Neutrality “Fast Lanes” Are Bullshit – Marco.org

An astute takedown of the political language in a New York Times article.

George Lakoff would be proud.

Labelmask | Brad Frost Web

I really like this interface idea from Brad that provides the utility of input masks but without the accessibility problems.

Data attributes and progressive enhancement - Simply Accessible

Derek’s excellent advice on avoiding over-reliance on data attributes has this brilliant nugget of insight:

In the web front-end stack — HTML, CSS, JS, and ARIA — if you can solve a problem with a simpler solution lower in the stack, you should. It’s less fragile, more foolproof, and just works

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Responsive design testing tool – Viewport Resizer

A handy little bookmarklet for quickly checking how a site might look at different screen sizes, and you can customise it to use whichever screen sizes you like.

Announcing dConstruct 2014

I’ve been puttin together the website for this year’s dConstruct and I reckon it’s in a decent enough shape to ship, so without further ado, I present to you…

dConstruct 2014 — Living With The Network

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. dConstruct 2014 takes place on September 5th in the Brighton Dome.
  2. Tickets will cost £150+VAT.
  3. Tickets go on sale at 11am on May 19th.
  4. It will be bloody brilliant.

To clarify that last point, it will be bloody brilliant because of the people who will be speaking. Like, ooh, I don’t know …Warren Fucking Ellis!

Mandy Brown!, Aaron Straup Cope!, Clare Reddington!, Tom Scott!, Leila Johnston!, Brian Suda!

I’m ludicrously excited about the line-up for this year’s event, and what’s on the website isn’t even the full roster; there’s more to come. But I can’t contain my excitement any longer and I just have to share this with everyone.

Now, you may not recognise every name on the line-up. Heck, you may not recognise any the names on the line-up. But if you were at dConstruct last year (or the year before) than I hope I’ve earned your trust. And trust me, this is going to be a fantastic day.

So put Monday, May 19th in your calendar so you can grab your ticket when they go on sale (don’t worry—there’s plenty to go around). And put Friday, September 5th in your calendar and I’ll see in the Brighton Dome for the event of the year.*

*Not hyperbole

Learn CSS Selectors interactively

This visual approach to demonstrating how CSS selectors work is really handy.

Peter Nixey - How to be a great software developer

I’m not sure if I agree completely with every point, but this is a great shortlist of things you can do to make your code more resilient and understandable (thereby making you, by any sensible definition, a better programmer).

How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors Are Shaping Your Future

Eileen Gunn writes in the Smithsonian magazine on the influence of science fiction.

Science fiction, at its best, engenders the sort of flexible thinking that not only inspires us, but compels us to consider the myriad potential consequences of our actions.

The Indieweb | Parallel Transport

or: how I learnt to stop worrying and love the blog.

This is a really nice introduction to the basics of the Indie Web …with nice illustrations too.

webcompat.com

I like this idea. It would be nice to see it catch on…

  1. Report a bug for any website or browser.
  2. Our team of volunteers diagnoses the bug.
  3. We send a fix to the site owner or browser.

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Mediating Music by Rudiger Meyer

A thoughtful in-depth piece that pulls together my hobby horses of independent publishing, responsive design, and digital preservation, all seen through the lens of music:

Music, Publishing, Art and Memory in the Age of the Internet

Monday, April 21st, 2014

New product opportunities for the Internet of Normal Things | Berg Blog

I like Matt’s observation here that the simple combination of a barebones data format like HTML delivered over HTTP is a good-enough low-level API for joining up all kinds of internet-connected things.

In the last 60 years, the biggest software platform for interop and integration – for new products, services, businesses, and value creation – has not been Android, or iOS, or Windows, or the PDP-11. The biggest and best platform has been the web.

One implication is that successful products are not necessarily those with seamless, beautiful, tightly-controlled “experiences”, but rather the ones that are capable of talking to each other.

Small things, loosely joined.

Friday, April 18th, 2014

James Bridle — Where You Are

The GPS system is a monumental network that provides a permanent “YouAreHere” sign hanging in the sky, its signal a constant, synchronised timecode.

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Wearables versus there-ables.

Some interesting thoughts that follow on nicely from Scott Jenson’s ideas around just-in-time interactions:

What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that’s the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term.

Fragmentions

Cennydd’s latest piece in A List Apart is the beautifully written Letter to a Junior Designer.

I really like the way that Cennydd emphasises the importance of being able to explain the reasoning behind your design decisions:

If you haven’t already, sometime in your career you’ll meet an awkward sonofabitch who wants to know why every pixel is where you put it. You should be able to articulate an answer for that person—yes, for every pixel.

That reminds me of something I read fourteen(!) years ago that’s always stayed with me. In an interview in Digital Web magazine, Joshua Davis was asked “What would you say is beauty in design?” His answer:

Being able to justify every pixel.

Here’s a link to the direct quote …except that link probably won’t work for you. Not unless you’ve installed this Chrome extension.

What the hell am I talking about? Well, this is something that Kevin Marks has been working on following on from the recent W3C annotation workshop.

It’s called fragmentions and it builds on the work done by Eric and Simon. They proposed using CSS selectors as fragment identifiers. Kevin’s idea is to use the words within the text as anchor points (like an automatic Command+F):

To tell these apart from an id link, I suggest using a double hash - ## for the fragment, and then words that identify the text. For example:

http://epeus.blogspot.com/2003_02_01_archive.html##annotate+the+web

That link will work in your browser because of this script, which Kevin has added to his site. I may well add that script to this site too.

Fragmentions are a nice idea and—to bring it back to Cennydd’s point—nicely explained.

Using Photoshop in Responsive Workflows - Web Standards Sherpa

A nice summation by Dan of when it makes sense to use a graphic design tool like Photoshop and when it makes sense to use a web browser.

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The Sticky Pagination Fixer

If you insist on having a fixed header on your site, please, please, please add this script to your site. I often use the spacebar to page down so this would be a life-saver.

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Higher standards

Many people are—quite rightly, in my opinion—upset about the prospect of DRM landing in the W3C HTML specification at the behest of media companies like Netflix and the MPAA.

This would mean that a web browser would have to include support for the plugin-like architecture of Encrypted Media Extensions if they want to claim standards compliance.

A common rebuttal to any concerns about this is that any such concerns are hypocritical. After all, we’re quite happy to use other technologies—Apple TV, Silverlight, etc.—that have DRM baked in.

I think that this rebuttal is a crock of shit.

It is precisely because other technologies are locked down that it’s important to keep the web open.

I own an Apple TV. I use it to watch Netflix. So I’m using DRM-encumbered technologies all the time. But I will fight tooth and nail to keep DRM out of web browsers. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s a quarantine measure.

Stuart summarises the current situation nicely:

From what I’ve seen, this is a discussion of pragmatism: given that DRM exists and movies use it and people want movies, is it a good idea to integrate DRM movie playback more tightly with the web?

His conclusion perfectly encapsulates why I watch Netflix on my Apple TV and I don’t want DRM on the web:

The argument has been made that if the web doesn’t embrace this stuff, people won’t stop watching videos: they’ll just go somewhere other than the web to get them, and that is a correct argument. But what is the point in bringing people to the web to watch their videos, if in order to do so the web becomes platform-specific and unopen and balkanised?

As an addendum, I heard a similar “you’re being a hypocrite” argument when I raised security concerns about EME at the last TAG meetup in London:

I tried to steer things away from the ethical questions and back to the technical side of things by voicing my concerns with the security model of EME. Reading the excellent description by Henri, sentences like this should give you the heebie-jeebies:

Neither the browser nor the JavaScript program understand the bytes.

Alex told me that my phone already runs code that I cannot inspect and does things that I have no control over. So hey, what does it matter if my web browser does the same thing, right?

I’m reminded of something that Anne wrote four years ago when a vulnerability was discovered that affected Flash, Java, and web browsers:

We have higher standards for browsers.

Avoiding ‘words to avoid’ | Inside GOV.UK

I love the thinking behind this plugin that highlights the weasel words that politicians are so found of.

Designing in the Borderlands by Frank Chimero

This is a wonderful piece of writing and thinking from Frank. A wonderful piece of design, then.

A personal view on generalists and trans-media design

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Tobias Frere-Jones: My Kind of Neighborhood

Some sleuthing uncovers an interesting twist in New York’s psychogeography:

All of the buildings have been demolished, and in some cases the entire street has since been erased. But a startling picture still emerged: New York once had a neighborhood for typography.

Meyrin: CERN Terminal Font « optional.is/required

Here’s the font that Brian created at the line-mode browser hack day at CERN.

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Dr. Easy on Vimeo

I finally got around to reading Red Men by Matthew De Abaitua recently. It’s like Nick Harkaway crossed with Jeff Noon.

Here’s hoping that this short film will be developed into a full-length feature.

Creating Style Guides · An A List Apart Article

A great article by Susan on getting started with creating a styleguide for any project.

I’ve seen firsthand how style guides save development time, make communication regarding your front end smoother, and keep both code and design consistent throughout the site.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Airbag Intl. / Archives

Greg says:

We need a web design museum.

I am, unsurprisingly, in complete agreement. And let’s make lots of copies while we’re at it.

Daring Fireball: Rethinking What We Mean by ‘Mobile Web’

John echoes some of my recent thinking about what qualifies as a web browser and, by extension, what qualifies as the web:

We shouldn’t think of “the web” as only what renders in web browsers. We should think of the web as anything transmitted using HTTP and HTTPS. Apps and websites are peers, not competitors. They’re all just clients to the same services.

That said, I think he is perhaps underestimating the power of URLs. Addressability—particularly over an extended time period—remains the powerful feature of the web.

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The tragedy of the commons

Flickr Commons is a wonderful thing. That’s why I’m concerned:

Y’know, I’m worried about what will happen to my own photos when Flickr inevitably goes down the tubes (there are still some good people there fighting the good fight, but they’re in the minority and they’re battling against the douchiest of Silicon Valley managerial types who have been brought in to increase “engagement” by stripping away everything that makes Flickr special) …but what really worries me is what’s going to happen to Flickr Commons. It’s an unbelievably important and valuable resource.

The Brooklyn Museum is taking pre-emptive measures:

As of today, we have left Flickr (including The Commons).

Unfortunately, they didn’t just leave their Flickr collection; they razed it to the ground. All those links, all those comments, and all those annotations have been wiped out.

They’ve moved their images over to Wikimedia Commons …for now. It turns out that they have a very cavalier attitude towards online storage (a worrying trait for a museum). They’re jumping out of the frying pan of Flickr and into the fire of Tumblr:

In the past few months, we’ve been testing Tumblr and it’s been a much better channel for this type of content.

Audio and video is being moved around to where the eyeballs and earholes currently are:

We have left iTunesU in favor of sharing content via YouTube and SoundCloud.

I find this quite disturbing. A museum should be exactly the kind of institution that should be taking a thoughtful, considered approach to how it stores content online. Digital preservation should be at the heart of its activities. Instead, it takes a back seat to chasing the fleeting thrill of “engagement.”

Leaving Flickr Commons could have been the perfect opportunity to invest in long-term self-hosting. Instead they’re abandoning the Titanic by hitching a ride on the Hindenberg.

Connections #2

There’ll be another Connections event this month, following on from the excellent inaugural humdinger. Save the date: Wednesday, April 23rd at 7pm in the delightful surroundings of 68 Middle Street.

There’s one obvious connection between the two speakers this time ‘round: their first names are homophones.

We’ve got Leigh Taylor of Medium and Gravita fame. He’ll be talking about this holacracy stuff that people have been banging on about lately, and what it takes to actually make a creative company work in a decentralised way.

We’ve also got Lee Bryant, an ol’ pal of mine from way back who recently launched POST*SHIFT. He too will be talking about flexible organisational structures.

Should be good brain-tickling fun. You can secure your place at the event now. It’s free. But the usual warning applies: if you can’t make it, be sure to cancel your ticket—if you book a place and then don’t show up, you will be persona non grata for any future Connections.

See you in two weeks time.

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Google Night Walk

A nice stroll around Marseilles at night without any of the traditional danger.

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014