Saturday, February 28th, 2015
Interstellar travel time dilation and status updates: a clever narrative combo.
Friday, February 27th, 2015
It will come as no surprise that I agree with every single word that Tim has written here.
Thursday, February 26th, 2015
Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
Unleash your inner Jackson Pollock.
I just now noticed the cake that the hotel have kindly/creepily left for me.
But I’ve sitting here for an hour.
I have cake blindness.
The ITU-T E.164 code of my country of residence.
Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
The minimum dependency for a web site should be an internet connection and the ability to parse HTML.
Updating the talk I’m giving at #AwwwardsBCN tomorrow: it’ll be one slide that reads “What @PhilHawksworth Said.”
Monday, February 23rd, 2015
Barcelona, I am in you.
Going to Barcelona. brb
Sunday, February 22nd, 2015
Lea wasn’t happy with the lack of styling and extensibility of the datalist element, so she rolled her own lightweight autocomplete/type-ahead widget, and she’s sharing it with the world.
Channel 5 is showing War Games and Top Gun. It’s like the nerds vs. the jocks. You must choose a side.
(I’m watching War Games.)
Saturday, February 21st, 2015
Phew! That was a close shave!
Friday, February 20th, 2015
Seeing Oliver Jeffers work on screen at The Story is reminding me of that lovely tale he drew for us in The Invisible Dog at Brooklyn Beta.
On the train to London with @qwertykate to go to The Story.
Thursday, February 19th, 2015
When I look around, I see our community spending a lot of time coming up with new tools and techniques to make our jobs easier. To ship faster. And it’s not that I’m against efficiency, but I think we need to consider the implications of our decisions. And if one of those implications is making our users suffer—or potentially suffer—in order to make our lives easier, I think we need to consider their needs above our own.
A fantastic new site from Ariel and Lisa: a collection of probes that are out in space right now, with oodles of facts for each mission and links through to more resources. SCIENCE!
Had a really good natter with @cackhanded. I need to do that more often.
A beautiful website for ISS-based biology experiments.
A great description of progressive enhancement.
Progressive enhancement in its basic form means not making assumptions
Wednesday, February 18th, 2015
At the Dukes At Komedia to watch Ex Machina.
@AdamRutherford’s tweeting must’ve finally got to me.
This is such a simple little adjustment, but I think it’s kinda brilliant: tweaking the display of your site’s maps to match the season.
Smart thinking from Sara on providing a PNG fallback to browsers that don’t support SVG. Although, actually what I like about this solution is that it’s less about providing PNG as a fallback, and more about treating PNG as the baseline and SVG as the enhancement (an approach that the picture element is perfect for).
Objects that talk are useful, but objects that tattle aren’t.
Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
Standing outside, watching a bright ISS fly across a crystal-clear sky, @WordRidden and I see a fireball of a meteor to the southeast.
After I wrote about digital preservation and the need to save everything, not just the so-called “important” stuff, Jason wrote a lovely piece with his own thoughts on the matter:
In order to write a history, you need evidence of what happened. When we talk about preserving the stuff we make on the web, it isn’t because we think a Facebook status update, or those GeoCities sites have such significance now. It’s because we can’t know.
In a timely coincidence, Vint Cerf also spoke about the importance of digital preservation:
When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history.
He warns of the dangers of rapidly-obsoleting file formats:
We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realising it. We digitise things because we think we will preserve them, but what we don’t understand is that unless we take other steps, those digital versions may not be any better, and may even be worse, than the artefacts that we digitised.
It was a little weird that the Guardian headline refers to Vint Cerf as “Google boss”. On the BBC he’s labelled as “Google’s Vint Cerf”. Considering he’s one of the creators of the internet itself, it’s a bit like referring to Neil Armstrong as a NASA employee.
I have to say, I just love listening to him talk. He’s so smooth. I’m sure that the character of The Architect from The Matrix Reloaded is modelled on him.
Vint Cerf knows a thing or two about long-term thinking when it comes to data formats. He has written many RFCs for the IETF (my favourite being RFC 2468). Back in 1969, he wrote RFC 20, proposing the ASCII format for network interchange. If you’ve ever used the
Last month, over 45 years after the RFC’s original publication, it became an official standard.
So when Vint Cerf warns about the dangers of digitising into file formats that could become unreadable, I think we should pay attention to him.
Paul Kinlan writes an honest post-mortem of his push for Web Intents.
There are some valuable lessons here, particularly for the indie web’s web actions.
We were discussing the CSS3 grid layout module in the Clearleft office today, so naturally Rachel’s name came up. This is such a great resource for diving into this stuff.
Many thanks to the employee at the Churchill Square Apple Store who got the lint out of my iPhone’s charging port. Now it’s as good as new!
Monday, February 16th, 2015
Tickets for the last Responsive Day Out
Jeremy—besides working alongside myself and Charlotte this week—has been scheming on Responsive Day Out, and he seems quite pleased with himself. Pretty sure I heard a sinister ‘my plans are coming together almost too well’-type laugh today.
Well, my dastardly schemes are working out perfectly. I’m ridiculously pleased to announce that Rosie Campbell and Aaron Gustafson have been added to the line up for Responsive Day Out 3: The Final Breakpoint.
That means that as well as Rosie and Aaron, you’ll also hear from Zoe, Jake, Alice, Peter, Rachel, Ruth, Heydon, and Alla …and that’s not even the final line-up! There are still more speaker announcements to come, and if my scheming pays off, they’re going to be quite special.
I hope that you’ve already added June 19th (the date of the conference) to your calendar, but I’ve got another date for your diary: March 3rd. That’s when tickets will go on sale.
As with last year’s event—Responsive Day Out 2: The Squishening—tickets will be a measly £80 plus VAT (a total of £96). All those fantastic talks for less than a hundred squid.
So make sure you’re at the ready on 11am on Tuesday, the 3rd of March.
And then I’ll see you for a packed day of knowledge bomb dropping on Friday, the 19th of June.
Our new intern—L’il James—demonstrates good .gif skills in his write-up of the project he worked on at Hack Farm.
It’s like Downton Abbey and Silicon Valley had a baby.
Sunday, February 15th, 2015
A nice little pattern for generating a swish timeline in SVG from a plain ol’ definition list in HTML.
Saturday, February 14th, 2015
Watching @StevenBJohnson on TV in Chicago and remembering being there then:
Friday, February 13th, 2015
Thursday, February 12th, 2015
You know what? Just go and read everything that Jason writes, okay?
Ruddy good stuff.
Brewster Kahle’s short presentation at NetGain.
The engineering benefits of building websites with a layered approach.
Why, yes, I am talking about progressive enhancement yet again! Why do you ask?
Brilliant! Although it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel to make a Markov chain out of someone whose entire output is already one big Markov chain.
Adam Curtis: the Banksy of documentaries.
Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
Oh, for crying out… I missed the @SpaceX launch because I was watching a documentary about the space shuttle.
Something something irony.
Submitting a pull request to The Guardian’s codebase.
I love the idea of owning your content and then syndicating it out to social networks, photo sites, and the like. It makes complete sense… Web-based services have a habit of disappearing, so we shouldn’t rely on them. The only Web that is permanent is the one we control.
But he quite rightly points out that we never truly own our own domains: we rent them. And when it comes to our servers, most of us are renting those too.
Sure, print pieces can be destroyed, but important works can be preserved in places like the Beinecke
Ah, but there’s the crux—that adjective, “important”. Print’s asset—the fact that it is made of atoms, not bits—is also its weak point: there are only so many atoms to go around. And so we pick and choose what we save. Inevitably, we choose to save the works that we deem to be important.
The problem is that we can’t know today what the future value of a work will be. A future president of the United States is probably updating their Facebook page right now. The first person to set foot on Mars might be posting a picture to her Instagram feed at this very moment.
One of the reasons that I love the Internet Archive is that they don’t try to prioritise what to save—they save it all. That’s in stark contrast to many national archival schemes that only attempt to save websites from their own specific country. And because the Internet Archive isn’t a profit-driven enterprise, it doesn’t face the business realities that caused Google to back-pedal from its original mission. Or, as Andy Baio put it, never trust a corporation to do a library’s job.
But even the Internet Archive, wonderful as it is, suffers from the same issue that Aaron brought up with the domain name system—it’s centralised. As long as there is just one Internet Archive organisation, all of our preservation eggs are in one magnificent basket:
Should we be concerned that the technical expertise and infrastructure for doing this work is becoming consolidated in a single organization?
Which brings us back to Aaron’s original question. Perhaps it’s less about “What do we own?” and more about “What are we responsible for?” If we each take responsibility for our own words, our own photos, our own hopes, our own dreams, we might not be able guarantee that they’ll survive forever, but we can still try everything in our power to keep them online. Maybe by acknowledging that responsibility to preserve our own works, instead of looking for some third party to do it for us, we’re taking the most important first step.
My words might not be as important as the great works of print that have survived thus far, but because they are digital, and because they are online, they can and should be preserved …along with all the millions of other words by millions of other historical nobodies like me out there on the web.
There was a beautiful moment in Cory Doctorow’s closing keynote at last year’s dConstruct. It was an aside to his main argument but it struck like a hammer. Listen in at the 20 minute mark:
They’re the raw stuff of communication. Same for tweets, and Facebook posts, and the whole bit. And this is where some cynic usually says, “Pah! This is about preserving all that rubbish on Facebook? All that garbage on Twitter? All those pictures of cats?” This is the emblem of people who want to dismiss all the stuff that happens on the internet.
And I’m supposed to turn around and say “No, no, there’s noble things on the internet too. There’s people talking about surviving abuse, and people reporting police violence, and so on.” And all that stuff is important but I’m going to speak for the banal and the trivial here for a moment.
Because when my wife comes down in the morning—and I get up first; I get up at 5am; I’m an early riser—when my wife comes down in the morning and I ask her how she slept, it’s not because I want to know how she slept. I sleep next to my wife. I know how my wife slept. The reason I ask how my wife slept is because it is a social signal that says:
I see you. I care about you. I love you. I’m here.
And when someone says something big and meaningful like “I’ve got cancer” or “I won” or “I lost my job”, the reason those momentous moments have meaning is because they’ve been built up out of this humus of a million seemingly-insignificant transactions. And if someone else’s insignificant transactions seem banal to you, it’s because you’re not the audience for that transaction.
The medieval scribes of Ireland, out on the furthermost edges of Europe, worked to preserve the “important” works. But occasionally they would also note down their own marginalia like:
Pleasant is the glint of the sun today upon these margins, because it flickers so.
Short observations of life in fewer than 140 characters. Like this lovely example written in ogham, a morse-like system of encoding the western alphabet in lines and scratches. It reads simply “latheirt”, which translates to something along the lines of “massive hangover.”
I’m glad that those “unimportant” words have also been preserved.
Centuries later, the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh would write about the desire to “wallow in the habitual, the banal”:
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Isn’t that a beautiful description of the web?
Tom doesn’t mention the phrase “progressive enhancement” once, but that’s okay—his post is still about progressive enhancement.
FastBoot is coming to Ember. That means server-side rendering. And that means progressive enhancement will become a possibility for Ember apps. Exciting!
There’s a whole bunch of great events happening in Brighton this March: Codebar, Curiosity Hub, She Codes Brighton, 300 Seconds, She Says Brighton, and Ladies that UX. Lots of these will be downstairs from Clearleft in Middle Street—very handy!
Politely replying “Nein!” to an invitation to join this wurstfest:
Tuesday, February 10th, 2015
Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate.
Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora.
The Web is the printing press of our times; an amazing piece of technology facilitating a free and wide-scale dissipation of our thoughts and ideas. And all of it is based on this near 20-year old, yet timeless idea of the Hyper Text Markup Language.
Sensible words from Christian.
Web applications don’t follow new rules.
And frameworks will not help:
A lot of them are not really fixing fundamental problems of the web. What they do is add developer convenience. … This would be totally OK, if we were honest about it.
Tim Maughan reports on the same container ship trip that Dan W. is sending his postcards from.
I like the idea of there being an Apollo-sized project all around us, if you just know where to look.
First, towering above and over the ship, are the loading cranes. Vast structures mounted on huge, four-legged frames, they resemble the naked scaffolding of unbuilt skyscrapers, and trigger nostalgic reminders of Saturn V rocket launch towers from the 1960s.
Once in port at night I saw one suddenly fire into life next to the ship in a stroboscopic explosion of lights, before it tracked slowly above my high vantage point, bathing me in the orange glow of a dozen small halogen suns.
Recounting the history of the box model—& thus the history of web standards—to @lottejackson.
Feels like I’m in A Canticle For Leibowitz.
A beautiful sci-fi short from the European Space Agency, inspired by the Rosetta mission.
A cute way of exploring a collection of classic works.
Monday, February 9th, 2015
- Know Your History
- Know Your Medium
- Respect Those Who Came Before You
- Respect Your Audience
- Get Involved
Simon St. Laurent on uncertainty as a feature, not a bug.
I’ve said it before: if your client-side MVC framework does not support server-side rendering, that is a bug. It cripples performance.
Ant told us this harrowing story in the office two weeks ago. I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to be in this situation.
I really enjoyed chatting with the guys on the The Dirt podcast about progressive enhancement, but my goodness; it certainly sounds like I need to switch to decaf! Yappity-yapity-yap!
Saturday, February 7th, 2015
Hackfarming Blood Buddies
Hack Farm usually takes place around November, but due to various complexities, Hack Farm 2014 wound up getting pushed back to the start of 2015. Last week we formed a convoy, stocked up on the bare essentials (food, post-it notes, and booze), and drove west for four hours until we were in Herefordshire at a place called The Colloquy—a return to the site of the first ever Hack Farm.
I kept notes on each day.
We arrive in the late afternoon, settle into our respective rooms, and eat some wonderful home-cooked food. After dinner, even though everyone’s pretty knackered, we agree that it’s best to figure out what everyone will be working on for the next few days.
Everyone gets a chance to pitch their ideas, and then we all do some dot-voting to whittle down the options. In short order, we arrive at four different projects for four different teams.
One of my ideas is chosen. This is something I’ve been pitching every single year at Hack Farm, and every single year it ends up narrowly missing out. This year, it’s finally going to happen!
We choose a room to use as our home base and begin.
We start by agreeing on a hypothesis—more of an assumption, really—that we’ll be basing everything upon:
People are more like to give blood if they are not alone.
We start writing down questions that people might ask related to giving blood. Some of these questions might well turn out to be out of scope for this project, or can already be better answered by an existing service like blood.co.uk e.g.:
- Can I give blood?
- How often can I give blood?
- Will it hurt?
- How long will it take?
Other questions are potentially open to us providing answers:
- Where can I give blood?
- When I can I give blood?
- Who else is giving blood?
That last one is a question that doesn’t seem to be answered anywhere else.
We brain-dump potential data sources that answered the “who”, “when”, and “where” questions? The data from blood.co.uk could potentially answer the “when” and “where” questions e.g. when and where is the next donation? Data from Twitter, Facebook, or your address book could answer the “who” questions e.g. who are you, and who are your friends?
We brainstorm potential outputs of the project. The obvious choices are a website or a native app, but there could also potentially be email, SMS, or even posters and postcards.
We think about potential incentives for the users of this service: peer pressure, gamification, bragging rights, reassurance, etc.
So there’s a lot of divergent thinking going on: at this stage, there are no bad ideas (no, really!).
We also establish the goals of the project—what we would like to see happen as a result of this service existing. The very minimum success criteria is:
Someone gives blood who hasn’t given blood before.
There’s a follow-on criteria for measuring longer-term success:
A group gives blood regularly.
We split into two groups to work on a propositional statement, then come together to merge what we came up with. Here it is:
For people who want to give blood, who need encouragement and motivation, Blood Buddies brings together people you know to make it a shared experience. That way, you’re more likely to give blood.
Unlike blood.co.uk, it frames giving blood as a shared, rewarding activity.
Blood Buddies is a codename for now. The final service might have a different name, like Bluddies maybe.
After lunch, we start to work on user stories and personas. After a while, we think we’ve got a pretty clear idea for the minimal viable user journey.
Now we take a little break and stretch our legs.
When we regroup, we start researching technical possibilities (like Twitter authentication, GMail address book, Facebook contacts, etc.), while also throwing ideas around to do with branding, tone of voice, etc. James Box comes in and helps us out with a handy branding exercise.
In an effort the name the thing, we create a page filled with relevant words that might be combined into a name. Eventually we reach the “just fucking end it!” moment. The service is called “Blood Buddies” after all. The tagline is …drumroll… “Get plastered together!”
Meanwhile, having investigated the technical possibilities, it looks like Twitter’s API will be the easiest (relatively) to start with.
We write out our epics and create a little kanban board. We have our tasks figured out:
- implement sign-in with Twitter,
- create a style guide,
- mock up the homepage,
- mock up a sign-up form,
- and more.
Tomorrow everyone can assign a task to themselves and get cracking (some people have started already).
After a late Superbowl night, we arise and begin tackling the day’s tasks.
I managed to get a very rudimentary Twitter sign-in working (eventually!) so now my task is to do something with the data that Twitter is returning …namely, storing it in a database. And because this relies on signing in with Twitter to get any results, this needs to get on to an actual web server as soon as possible.
Cue a day of wrangling with PHP, MySQL, OAuth, Git, Apache, SSH keys, and DNS settings …with an intermittent internet connection that drops out at the most inconvenient of times.
Andy is storyboarding the promo video that will help sell the story of Blood Buddies.
Meanwhile James and Tessa are hammering out a visual language for Blood Buddies. So the work is being approached from two different ends: the server side (how it works behind the scenes) and the interface (how it looks to the end user). In the middle is the user flow, and that’s what Richard is working on, also looking ahead past the minimal viable product to include features that can be added later.
By late afternoon the most basic server-side functionality is done, and the site is live at bloodbuddies.co.uk. Of course, there’s very, very, very little to see there, but at least our team can start adding themselves to the database.
So now the task is to join up the back-end functionality with the visual design and copy. As these strands come together, it feels like we’re getting back to a more collaborative phase: whereas yesterday involved lots of group activity, today was more splintered. But that’s going to change now that we’re going to join up the individual pieces into a unified interface.
Today felt quite productive considering that three out of the five people on our team are on cooking duty.
Today is a day of rest. It’s a beautiful day. We go for a drive through the countryside, pop into a pub for some grub, and go walking on the hills.
We’re down to just three team members today. Tessa is working on a different project and Andy is spending the day sleeping, puking, and generally recovering from a heavy night. N00b.
We get cracking on with integrating the visual design with the back-end functionality. That means bashing out some CSS. After an hour or two, we’ve got something basic in place.
While James works on refining the visuals—including a kick-ass logo—Richard is writing lots and lots of copy, and figuring out user flows.
Meanwhile I’m trying to get server-side stuff in place, fiddling with DNS and email; not my favourite activity.
Once the DNS is pointed to the Digital Ocean server, and with the Twitter sign-in working okay, we realise that we’ve actually launched! Admittedly it’s very basic and it needs plenty of refinement, but it’s a start.
We head out for the evening meal together. Just one more day to go.
James starts the day by finishing up his kick-ass Blood Buddies logo.
Richard is writing and editing lots of witty copy.
Andy is storyboarding a promotional video.
I’m trying to get emails working, so that when someone you know signs up to Blood Buddies, we can email you to let you know. By lunchtime, we’ve got it all working.
Lots of the details are in place now: the logo, web fonts, an error page, a favicon …it feels good to be iterating on a live site.
After lunch, James, Richard, and I work on expanding out the home page. Once everything is in pretty good shape, we all come together (with Andy and Tessa) to talk about what the next steps could be after this minimum viable product.
There’s consensus that the most important step would be adding more ways of signing into the site, instead of just Twitter. Also, there’s a lot of functionality we could add if we can scrape the data from blood.co.uk
But that’s for another day. Right now we’ve got a barebones site, but it’s working.
Friday, February 6th, 2015
Returning home from Hackfarm, travelling across the country like a journey through time, back to civilisation and an internet connection.