Archive: March, 2016
Thursday, March 31st, 2016
Microsoft Cognitive Services: Introducing the Seeing AI app - YouTube
Seems like ages since I’ve seen Saqib. He’s been working on something very nifty indeed:
…Seeing AI, a research project that helps people who are visually impaired or blind to better understand who and what is around them. The app is built using intelligence APIs from Microsoft Cognitive Services…
Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
Got a new amp last week. Played it loud today. I am ready to rock tomorrow evening’s @SalterCane gig.
Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
Front-End Style-Guides: Definition, Requirements, Component Checklist
You know that front-end pattern libraries have hit the mainstream when the Nielsen Norman Group get in on the action.
As ever, I’m not sure their sweeping generalisations can be applied to every project, but their checklist approach makes for a good starting point.
I just backed the hell out of Material Conference 2016 on @Kickstarter http://kck.st/24Q77wr
NPM & left-pad: Have We Forgotten How To Program? | Haney Codes .NET
Not to sound all “Get off my lawn, kids!” but I think there might be something to this. When you’re requiring hundreds of dependencies to do little tasks that you should be able to code yourself, something’s not right.
But, for the love of all that is programming, write your own bloody basic programming functions. Taking on dependencies for these one-liners is just nuts.
That said, you don’t want reinvent hundreds of wheels either (as most of the comments point out). There’s a balance to be had.
I can see my book recommendations in there!
Monday, March 28th, 2016
CSS and Scalability
Some good thoughts in here about writing scalable CSS …although the finger-pointing at sites (that are shipping at scale) reminds me a bit of that quote by copywriter Paul Butterworth: “Where the heck were you when the page was blank?”
Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse
We know their dream; enough To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love Bewildered them till they died?
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith For all that is done and said.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death.
Saturday, March 26th, 2016
mortenjust/cleartext-mac: A text editor that only allows the top 1000 most common words in English
This could pair up nicely with the most dangerous writing app.
Thursday, March 24th, 2016
toddmotto/public-apis: A collective list of public JSON APIs for use in web development.
Remember mashups? Mashups were cool.
If you fancy partying like it’s nineteen ninety web 2.0, here’s a growing list of public APIs that return JSON.
Dirty Tricks From The Dark Corners Of Front-End // Speaker Deck
Vitaly calls them dirty tricks but this is a handy collection of front-end development techniques. They’re not really dirty …just slightly soiled.
Mapping Mountains · Mapzen
Everything you never wanted to know about conveying elevation information on maps, delivered in Peter’s always-entertaining style and illustrated with interactive examples.
RFC 7763 - The text/markdown Media Type
Markdown gets its own media type: text/markdown.
Angola’s Wikipedia Pirates Are Exposing the Problems With Digital Colonialism | Motherboard
The street finds its own uses for colonial internet practices:
Because the data is completely free, Angolans are hiding large files in Wikipedia articles on the Portuguese Wikipedia site (Angola is a former Portuguese colony)—sometimes concealing movies in JPEG or PDF files. They’re then using a Facebook group to direct people to those files, creating a robust, completely free file sharing network.
Blandly. A Full-Service Integrated Digital Blanding Agency
Well, we might as well bin the Clearleft website rebranding project. Somebody has beaten us to it.
The copy & paste guide to your first Service Worker
Minimum viable Service Worker tutorial. Copy, paste, and don’t ask questions.
Salter Cane, The Self Help Group, Thursday 31st March - Brighton Source
Salter Cane play a dark, melancholic folk-rock, full of doom and darkness, murder and mayhem.
If that sounds like your idea of a fun time, come along to the Latest Music Bar in Brighton next Thursday.
Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016
The web on my phone
It’s funny how times have changed. Remember back in the 90s when Microsoft—quite rightly—lost an anti-trust case? They were accused of abusing their monopolistic position in the OS world to get an unfair advantage in the browser world. By bundling a copy of Internet Explorer with every copy of Windows, they were able to crush the competition from Netscape.
Mind you, it was still possible to install a Netscape browser on a Windows machine. Could you imagine if Microsoft had tried to make that impossible? There would’ve been hell to pay! They wouldn’t have had a legal leg to stand on.
Yet here we are two decades later and that’s exactly what an Operating System vendor is doing. The Operating System is iOS. It’s impossible to install a non-Apple browser onto an Apple mobile computer. For some reason, the fact that it’s a mobile device (iPhone, iPad) makes it different from a desktop-bound device running OS X. Very odd considering they’re all computers.
“But”, I hear you say, “What about Chrome for iOS? Firefox for iOS? Opera for iOS?”
Chrome for iOS is not Chrome. Firefox for iOS is not Firefox. Opera for iOS is not Opera. They are all using WebKit. They’re effectively the same as Mobile Safari, just with different skins.
I had a dream where this was removed:— Dion Almaer (@dalmaer) March 19, 2016
But there won’t be any anti-trust case here.
I think it’s a real shame. Partly, I think it’s a shame because as a developer, I see an Operating System being let down by its browser. But mostly, I think it’s a shame because I use an iPhone and I’m being let down by its browser.
It’s kind of ironic, because when the iPhone first launched, it was all about the web apps. Remember, there was no App Store for the first year of the iPhone’s life. If you wanted to build an app, you had to use web technologies. Apple were ahead of their time. Alas, the web technologies weren’t quite up to the task back in 2007. These days, though, there are web technologies landing in browsers that are truly game-changing.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m very excited about Service Workers. It’s doubly exciting to see the efforts the Chrome on Android team are making to make the web a first-class citizen. As Remy put it:
If I add this app to my home screen, it will work when I open it.
I’d like to be able to use Chrome, Firefox, or Opera on my iPhone—real Chrome, real Firefox, or real Opera; not a skinned version of Safari. Right now the only way for me to switch browsers is to switch phones. Switching phones is a pain in the ass, but I’m genuinely considering it.
Whereas I’m all talk, Henrik has taken action. Like me, he doesn’t actually care about the Operating System. He cares about the browser:
Android itself bores me, honestly. There’s nothing all that terribly new or exciting here.’
save one very important detail…
IT’S CURRENTLY THE BEST MOBILE WEB APP PLATFORM
That’s true for now. The pole position for which browser is “best” is bound to change over time. The point is that locking me into one particular browser on my phone doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not very …webby.
I’m sure that Apple are not quaking in their boots at the thought of myself or Henrik switching phones. We are minuscule canaries in a very niche mine.
But what should give Apple pause for thought is the user experience they can offer for using the web. If they gain a reputation for providing a sub-par web experience compared to the competition, then maybe they’ll have to make the web a first-class citizen.
If I want to work towards that, switching phones probably won’t help. But what might help is following Alex’s advice in his answer to the question “What do we do about Safari?”:
What we do about Safari is we make websites amazing …and then they can’t not implement.
I’ll be doing that here on adactio, over on The Session (and Huffduffer when I get around to overhauling it), making progressively enhanced, accessible, offline-first, performant websites.
I’ll also be doing it at Clearleft. If you work at an organisation that wants a progressively-enhanced, accessible, offline-first, performant website, we should talk.
Apologies for the short notice, but this evening’s Brighton Homebrew Website Club is cancelled.
Sorry, my web-building friends.
The act of linking to this story is making it true.
“I don’t think there’s any law against this,” I said. How could there be a law against something that’s not possible?
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016
Enjoyed popping down to the beach for a sneaky pint and a catch-up with @george08. It’s a lovely day out there.
Introduction to Ember FastBoot by Tom Dale on Vimeo
I’m so happy that Ember is moving to a server-side rendering model. Not only that, but as Tom points out here, it’s crucial that the server-side rendering is the default and the client-side functionality than becomes an enhancement.
Monday, March 21st, 2016
Progressive Enhancement Makes Me Sad | HeydonWorks
Well, I’m convinced.
San Andreas State: Animal Cam
An immortal deer wanders the world of Grand Theft Auto for all eternity. It’s remarkably calm and relaxing.
Helium Dreams - The New Yorker
This article on airships has my new favourite sentence in the English language:
During the First World War, Germany and its allies ceased production of sausages so that there would be enough cow guts to make zeppelins from which to bomb England.
Of course it was Simon who pointed me to this. Of course.
Microsoft’s Radical Bet On A New Type Of Design Thinking
On universal design: “We’re reframing disability as an opportunity.”
One day someone will write a history of the Internet, in which that great series of tubes will emerge as one long chain of inventions not just geared to helping people connect in more ways, but rather, to help more and more types of people communicate just as nimbly as anyone else.
Making things happen
I have lovely friends who are making lovely things. Surprisingly, lots of these lovely things aren’t digital (or at least aren’t only digital).
My friends Brian and Joschi want to put on an ambitious event called Material:
A small conference based in Reykjavik, Iceland, looking into the concept of the Web as a Material — 22nd July 2016, https://material.is
They’re funding it through Kickstarter. If you have any interest in this at all, I suggest you back it. Best bet is to pledge the amount that guarantees you a ticket to the conference. Go!
My friend Matt has a newsletter called 3 Books Weekly to match his Machine Supply website. Each edition features three book recommendations chosen by a different person each time.
Here’s the twist: there’s going to be a Machine Supply pop-up bookshop AKA a vending machine in Shoreditch. That’ll be rolling out very soon and I can’t wait to see it.
My friend Josh made a crazy website to tie in with an art project called Cosmic Surgery. My friend Emily made a limited edition run of 10 books for the project. Now there’s a Kickstarter project to fund another run of books which will feature a story by Piers Bizony.
An Icelandic conference, a vending machine for handpicked books, and a pop-up photo book …I have lovely friends who are making lovely things.
Web Manifest Validator
If you have a manifest.json file for your site, here’s a handy validator.
C’mon, people—let’s go to Iceland!
Sunday, March 20th, 2016
Saturday, March 19th, 2016
Feedback, The Medium Way.™
What a gentleman!
Friday, March 18th, 2016
I love good typography but I have to agree with the sentiment expressed here.
System fonts can be beautiful. Webfonts are not a requirement for great typography.
Someone at Clearleft asked me a question recently about making bookmarklets. I have a bit of experience in that department. As well as making a bookmarklet for adding links to my own site, there’s the Huffduffer bookmarklet that’s been chugging away since 2008.
I told them that there are basically two approaches:
- Have the bookmarklet pop open a new browser window at your service, passing in the URL of the current page. Then do all the heavy lifting on your server.
I favour the first approach. Partly that’s because it makes it easier to update the functionality. As you improve your server-side script, the bookmarklet functionality gets better automatically. But also, if your server-side script doesn’t do its magic, you can always fall back to letting the end user fill in the details.
Here’s an example…
When you click the Huffduffer bookmarklet, it pops open this URL:
page parameter filled in with whatever page you currently have open. Let’s say I’ve got this page currently open in my browser:
If I press the Huffduffer bookmarklet, that will spawn a new window with this URL:
And that’s all it does. Now it’s up to that page on Huffduffer to figure out what to do with the URL it has been given. In this case, it makes a CURL request to figure out what to use as a title, what to use as a description, what audio file to use, etc. If it can’t figure that out, I can always fill in those fields myself by hand.
Content Security Policies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_Security_Policy) are great except that they prevent bookmarklets like @instapaper from loading. 😐— Jason Garber (@jgarber) March 16, 2016
But remember this only applies to some bookmarklets. If a bookmarklet just spawns a new window—like Huffduffer’s—then there’s no problem. That approach to bookmarklets was dismissed with this justification:
Citation needed. I submit that Huffduffer and Instapaper provide very similar services: “listen later” and “read later”. Both use cases could be described as “non-trivial”. But only one of the bookmarklets works on sites with strict CSPs.
Bookmarklets are not dead. They may, however, be pining for the fjords. Nobody has a figured out a way to get bookmarklets to work on mobile. Now that might well be a death sentence.
Progressive web apps: the long game
Remy sums up the psychological end goal of progressive apps (HTTPS + Service Worker + manifest JSON file) prompting an add to home screen action:
This high bar of entry will create a new mental model for our users.
If I add this app to my home screen, it will work when I open it.
It’s a shame that this charge to turbo-boast the perception of the web on mobile is a bit one-sided: I would love to see Apple follow Google’s lead here. But if Android succeed in their goal, then I think iOS will have to follow suit just to compete.
Bruce Lawson’s personal site : One weird trick to get online — designers hate it!
I don’t care about Opera Mini (I’m not its Product Manager). In the same way, I don’t care about walking sticks, wheelchairs, mobility scooters or guide dogs. But I care deeply about people who use enabling technologies — and Opera Mini is an enabling technology. It allows people on feature phones, low-powered smartphones, people in low-bandwidth areas, people with very small data plans, people who are roaming (you?) connect to the web.
Cosmic Surgery by Alma Haser — Kickstarter
Well, here’s an art project with a difference: it comes with a web site built by Josh, a story written by Piers Bizony, and a book made by Emily.
PX, EM or REM Media Queries? by Zell Liew
Just recently on a Clearleft project, some of us were discussing whether there was a reason not to use
rems instead of
ems for media queries. Apart from one older browser implementation difference, we couldn’t come up with much.
Some in-depth research here supports the use of
em values for media queries. Very good to know.
Thursday, March 17th, 2016
Getting inspiration for my next job title.
Lá féile Pádraig shona dhiabh, a chairde!
Wednesday, March 16th, 2016
Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Managing Mobile Performance Optimization – Smashing Magazine
Some solid sensible advice on optimising performance.
Reasons to Use Ad-Blockers – Coyote Tracks
If you think people using ad blockers are just anti-ad or want to freeload on publishers, you’re completely missing the point. The online advertising industry has been abusing users for 20 years now, and we’re sick of it.
Monday, March 14th, 2016
A Helpful Diagram
Blogging through Venn diagrams.
Service Workers: Save your User’s Data using the Save-Data Header | Dean Hume
I hadn’t heard of the
save-data header. This article shows how you can use a Service Worker to sniff for it and serve up smaller assets, but I’m guessing you could also sniff for it from the server.
CSS Flexbox Is Entirely Logical (Almost) / Paul Robert Lloyd
Paul is digging deep into flexbox and finding it particularly useful for internationalisation …but there are still some gotchas.
This looks a good (free!) event in London all about the latest browser goodies, all wrapped in the “progressive apps” buzzword.
Alas, I’ll be making my way back from Indie Web Camp Düsseldorf the day this is on.
Sunday, March 13th, 2016
Instagram-style filters in HTML5 Canvas | Viget
Una’s [Instagram filters in CSS}(https://github.com/una/CSSgram) are great, but the browser support for CSS filters isn’t as good as, say, the browser support for canvas. Here’s a clever bit of scripting to polyfill filters using canvas.
Introducing A11y Toggle
Here’s a bit of convergent evolution: Hugo’s script is similar to what I wrote about recently.
He also raises a point that Kevin mentioned:
I would like to investigate on the
summaryelements as they are basically a native implementation for content toggles.
For some reason
details never got much browser love, even though it’s clearly paving a well-trodden cowpath.
Saturday, March 12th, 2016
Friday, March 11th, 2016
THE WALK OF LIFE PROJECT
The thesis: any film is improved by playing Walk Of Life by Dire Straits over the ending.
The proof: this website.
(this is absorbing and brilliant)
Accessible progressive disclosure
Over on The Session I have a few instances of a progressive disclosure pattern. It’s just your basic show/hide toggle: click on a button; see some more content. For example, there’s a “download” button for every tune that displays options to download the tune in different formats (ABC and midi).
To begin with, I was using the
:checked pseudo-class pattern that Charlotte has documented so well. I really like that pattern. It feels nice and straightforward. But then I got some feedback from someone using the site:
the link for midi files is no longer coming up on the tune pages. I am blind so I rely on the midi’s when finding tunes for my students.
I wrote back saying the link to download midi files was revealed by the “download” option. The response:
Excellent. I have it now, I was just looking for the midi button which wasn’t there. the actual download button doesn’t read as a button under each version of the tune but now I know it’s there I know what I am doing. I am using the JAWS screen reader.
This was just one person …one person who took the time to write to me. What about other screen reader users?
I dabbled around with adding
role="button" to the checkbox or the label, but that felt really icky (contradicting the inherent role of those elements) and it didn’t seem to make much difference anyway.
class value; instead the buttons must have an
aria-controls attribute that associates the button with the element it toggles (in much the same way that a
for attribute associates a
label with a form field).
Here’s the logic:
- Find any elements that have an
aria-controlsattribute (these should be buttons).
- Grab the value of that
aria-controlsattribute (an ID).
- Hide the element with that ID by applying
aria-hidden="true"and make that element focusable by adding
aria-expanded="false"on the associated button (this attribute can be a bit confusing—it doesn’t mean that this element is not expanded; it means the element it controls is not expanded).
- Listen for click events on those buttons.
- Toggle the
aria-expandedwhen there’s a click event.
aria-hiddenis set to
falseon an element (thereby revealing it), focus that element.
You can see it action on CodePen.
I’m still playing around with this. I think the
:focus styles are probably far too subtle right now—see this excellent presentation from Laura Palmaro for more on that. I’m also not sure if the revealed content should automatically take focus. I’ll see if I can get some feedback from people on The Session using screen readers—there’s quite a few of them.
Feel free to use my code but you might want to check out Jason’s code to do the same thing—his is bound to be nicer to work with.
Update: In response to this discussion, I’ve decided not to automatically focus the expanded content.
Thursday, March 10th, 2016
Enduring CSS (not int the sense of “put up with” but in the sense of “long-lasting”) is a new book by Ben Frain all about writing and maintaining modular reusable CSS.
You can read the whole thing for free online or buy an eBook.
Jon Aizlewood | Visual inventories for agile design
Jon outlines his technique for keeping “the 30,000 foot” view when patterns are coalescing during a project.
See also: Andy P.’s experience of working with Jon this way.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
Widespread XSS Vulnerabilities in Ad Network Code Affecting Top Tier Publishers, Retailers - Randy Westergren
This industry-wide problem serves as a great example of how 3rd-party components can compromise the security of an otherwise secure site.
One more reason to install an ad blocker.
Design is choice by Jaime Caballero
A lovely outlook on designing with progressive enhancement:
There will always be users coming from places you didn’t expect, using devices you didn’t test for.
Simon McManus - YouTube
Come for the videos of EnhanceConf. Stay for the skateboarding beagle.
Material Conference 2016 by Joschi Kuphal & Brian Suda — Kickstarter
I’m am soooo there!
Iceland, July 22nd: a conference about the material of the web …right up my alley.
You can get a ticket by backing the project on Kickstarter. Be sure to check out all the options.
See you in Reykjavík!
IndieWeb — Deine Daten. Dein Netz. | Vortrag auf dem Webkongress Erlangen 2016 | Joschi Kuphal
It’s in German, but this presentation by Joschi is a great introduction to Indie Web ideas and building blocks.
A film about Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web. Details are scarce right now but watch this space.
Making web apps? Care about SEO? Here’s Google’s advice:
Use feature detection & progressive enhancement techniques to make your content available to all users.
Styling Broken Images
This is really, really clever. You can’t use generated content (
:after) on replaced content. The
img element is replaced content …but only when the image actually loads. So if the image fails to load, you can apply specific fallback styles (using
Why I like the new Met logo (and why you should give it a chance): Design Observer
Michael Bierut on that logo …and graphic design in general.
Graphic designers, whether we admit it or not, are trained for the short term. Most of the things we design have to discharge their function immediately, whether it’s a design for a book or a poster, a website or an infographic, a sign system, or a business card. In school critiques, architecture and industrial design students produce models. Graphic designers produce finished prototypes. As a result, the idea that we create things that are unfinished, that can only accrue value over time, is foreign to us. It’s so easy for us to visualize the future, and so hard to admit that we really can’t. That’s what we face every time we unveil a new logo.
Monday, March 7th, 2016
A Year Without jQuery
The BBC announcer voice really confused @wordridden by describing Mary Berry’s “party ghetto” as unmissable.
It’s a party gateaux.
Use rems for global sizing, use ems for local sizing | Clagnut
In this extract from his forthcoming book, Richard looks at when to use
ems, when to use
rems …and when to use
ch (no, me neither).
Infinite Scrolling, Pagination Or “Load More” Buttons? Usability Findings In eCommerce – Smashing Magazine
A good side-by-side comparison of loading techniques, with some clear advice. But pay attention to this note:
While the debate over “Load more” versus infinite scrolling versus pagination has been debated for years, the product loading method shouldn’t be the first thing that most e-commerce vendors spend their development resources on.
People in Brighton with websites …see you on Wednesday.
A Design Science Primer
The Buckminster Fuller Institute has put together this collection of resources which explain the ideas behind “comprehensive anticipatory design science.”
Seems especially relevant in light of the first issue of the Journal of Design and Science from MIT.
The legacy of the Black Mountain College lives on.
FormKeep | Form endpoints for designers and developers
When I’ve been helping Codebar students on their personal projects, everything goes great until some kind of server-side processing is needed. Nine times out of ten, that server-side processing simply doing something with the contents of a contact form. This looks like it could be a useful service to plug into little projects like that.
LOL Colors - Curated color palette inspiration
Here, have some colour palettes.
If Flexbox Froggy was too easy for you, take it to the next level with this tower defence game.
If you’re going to override or reimplement something that already exists, do some research on what the existing thing does first. You cannot possibly craft a good replacement without understanding the original.
Remember that for all the power the web affords you, the control is still ultimately in end user’s hands.
Sunday, March 6th, 2016
The Most Dangerous Writing App
This is harsh …but surprisingly effective. Choose a time period—5 minutes, 10, 20—then start writing. If you stop for too long, you lose everything you’ve written.
It’s kinda stressful but it really works.
Farewell, Ray Tomlinson, ARPANET architect and engineer of electronic mail.
thoughtbot/design-sprint: Product Design Sprint Material
If you’re intrigued by the kind of design sprints I wrote about recently, here’s a handy collection of resources to get you going.
- Understand: Gather existing knowledge, expose assumptions and unknowns
- Diverge: Illuminating all possible paths
- Converge: Choose the right path
- Prototype: Quickly build the right path
- Test & Learn: Test the right path
An attempt to convey the experience of (one kind of) dyslexia through code.
Embracing simplicity by Adam Silver
The full text of Adam’s excellent talk at EnhanceConf.
EnhanceConf - Stefan Tilkov - How to embrace the browser - YouTube
The videos from EnhanceConf are started to go up already. Stefan’s talk really struck me—all the talks were great but this one had the most unexpected insight for me. It really clarifies a lot of ideas that I’ve been trying to articulate, but which Stefan crystalises by taking the long-zoom view.
English as she is spoke
This is truly a book apart.
Will we ever walk again on the surface of the moon?
A brief history of lunar sci-fi.
No matter how much we want the science fiction dream to come true – and personally I would love it – the reality is that a lunar colony is very unlikely to ever be financially viable. It would be no surprise if we saw more expeditions to the moon, but all those wonderful visions of the high frontier recreated in space are more likely to apply to destinations with a better long-term future, like Mars, rather than the moon.
Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space – The New Inquiry
Fear and loathing in Houston.
- Humanity will never colonize Mars, never build moon bases, never rearrange the asteroids, never build a sphere around the sun.
- There will never be faster-than-light travel. We will not roam across the galaxy. We will not escape our star.
- Life is probably an entirely unexceptional phenomenon; the universe probably teems with it. We will never make contact. We will never fuck green-skinned alien babes.
- The human race will live and die on this rock, and after we are gone something else will take our place. Maybe it already has, without our even noticing.
- All this is good. This is a good thing.
Saturday, March 5th, 2016
Hoping that @ArchiveTeam is grabbing http://www.todayszaman.com/
The voice of MOL
The latest issue of Spaceflight—the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society—dropped through my door, adding to my weekend reading list. This issue contains a “whatever happened to” article about the military personnel who were supposed to crew the never-realised MOL project.
Before Salyut, Skylab, Mir, or the ISS, the Manned Orbital Laboratory was the first proposed space station. It would use a Gemini capsule and a Titan propellant tank.
But this wasn’t to be a scientific endeavour. The plan was to use the MOL as a crewed spy satellite—human eyes in the sky watching the enemy below.
The MOL was cancelled (because uncrewed satellites were getting better at that sort of thing), so that particular orbital panopticon never came to pass.
I remember when I first heard of the MOL and I was looking it up on Wikipedia, that this little nugget of information stood out to me:
The MOL was planned to use a helium-oxygen atmosphere.
That’s right: instead of air (21% oxygen, 79% nitrogen), the spies in the sky would be breathing heliox (21% oxygen, 79% helium). Considering the effect that helium has on the human voice, I can only imagine that the grave nature of the mission would have been somewhat compromised.
Building Inspector by NYPL Labs
A wonderful Zooniverse-like project from the New York Public Library:
Help unlock New York City’s past by identifying buildings and other details on beautiful old maps.
Device Lab / Oktavilla
Do you live in Stockholm? If so, you’ve got a device lab you can visit.
So feel free to drop by and test your responsive/mobile designs.
Moderating EnhanceConf 2016
Last year I met up with Simon McManus in a Brighton pub where he told me about his plan to run a conference dedicated to progressive enhancement. “Sounds like a great idea!”, I said, and offered him any help I could.
With the experience of organising three dConstructs and three Responsive Days Out, I was able to offer some advice on the practical side of things like curation, costs and considerations. Simon also asked me to MC his event. I was only too happy to oblige. After all, I was definitely going to be at the conference—wild horses wouldn’t keep me away—and when have I ever turned down an opportunity to hog the mic?
Simon chose a name: EnhanceConf. He found a venue: The RSA in London. He settled on a date: March 4th, 2016. He also decided on a format, the same one as Responsive Day Out: four blocks of talks, each block consisting of three back-to-back 20 minute presentations followed by a group discussion and questions.
With all those pieces in place, it was time to put together a line-up. I weighed in with my advice and opinions there too, but the final result was all Simon’s …and what a great result it was.
Yesterday was the big day. I’m happy to report that it was a most splendid event: an inspiring collection of brilliant talks, expertly curated like a mixtape for the web.
Nat got the day off to a rousing start. They gave an overview of just how fragile and unpredictable the World Wide Web can be. To emphasise this, Anna followed with detailed look at the many, many console browsers people are using. Then Stefan gave us a high-level view of sensible (and not-so-sensible) architectures for building on the web—a talk packed to the brim with ideas and connections to lessons from the past that really resonated with me.
After that high-level view, the next section was a deep dive into strategies for building with progressive enhancement: building React apps that share code for rendering on the server and the client from Forbes; using Service Workers to create a delightful offline experience from Olly; taking a modular approach to how structure our code and cut the mustard from Stu.
The after-lunch session was devoted to design. It started with good ol’ smackdown between Phil and Stephen, which I attempted to introduce in my best wrestling announcer voice. That was followed by a wonderfully thoughtful presentation by Adam Silver on Embracing Simplicity. Then Jen blew everyone away with a packed presentation of not just what’s possible with CSS now, but strategies for using the latest and greatest CSS today.
Finally, the day finished with a look to the future. And the future is …words. Robin was as brilliant as ever, devising an exercise to get the audience to understand just how awful audio CAPTCHAs are, but also conveying his enthusiasm and optimism for voice interfaces. That segued perfectly into the next two talks. Stephanie gave us a crash course in crafting clear, concise copy, and Aaron tied that together with Robin’s musings on future interactions with voice in a great final presentation called Learn From the Past, Enhance for the Future (echoing the cyclical patterns that Stefan was talking about at the start of the day).
As the day wrapped up, I finished by pointing to a new site launched by Jamie on the very same day: progressiveenhancement.org. With that, my duties were fulfilled.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the talks and then quizzing the speakers afterwards. I really do enjoy moderating events. Some of the skills are basic (pronouncing people’s names correctly, using their preferred pronouns) and some are a little trickier (trying to quickly spot connections, turning those connections into questions for each speaker) but it’s very rewarding indeed.
I had a blast at EnhanceConf. I felt bad though; lots of people came up to me and started thanking me for a great day. “Don’t thank me!” I said, “Thank Simon.”
Why I Quit Ordering From Uber-for-Food Start-Ups by Robin Sloan in The Atlantic
Something to remember the next time someone describes an experience as “seamless” and means it to be positive:
This is the Amazon move: absolute obfuscation of labor and logistics behind a friendly buy button. The experience for a Sprig customer is super convenient, almost magical; the experience for a chef or courier…? We don’t know. We don’t get to know. We’re just here to press the button.
I feel bad, truly, for Amazon and Sprig and their many peers—SpoonRocket, Postmates, Munchery, and the rest. They build these complicated systems and then they have to hide them, because the way they treat humans is at best mildly depressing and at worst burn-it-down dystopian.
What would it be like if you didn’t have to hide the system?
Journal of Design and Science
A new publication from MIT. It deliberately avoids the jargon that’s often part and parcel of peer-reviewed papers, and all of the articles are published under a Creative Commons attribution licence.
The first issue is dedicated to Marvin Minsky and features these superb articles, all of which are independently excellent but together form an even greater whole…
Design and Science by Joi Ito:
When the cybernetics movement began, the focus of science and engineering was on things like guiding a ballistic missile or controlling the temperature in an office. These problems were squarely in the man-made domain and were simple enough to apply the traditional divide-and-conquer method of scientific inquiry.
Science and engineering today, however, is focused on things like synthetic biology or artificial intelligence, where the problems are massively complex. These problems exceed our ability to stay within the domain of the artificial, and make it nearly impossible for us to divide them into existing disciplines.
Age of Entanglement by Neri Oxman:
This essay proposes a map for four domains of creative exploration—Science, Engineering, Design and Art—in an attempt to represent the antidisciplinary hypothesis: that knowledge can no longer be ascribed to, or produced within, disciplinary boundaries, but is entirely entangled.
Design as Participation by Kevin Slavin:
The designers of complex adaptive systems are not strictly designing systems themselves. They are hinting those systems towards anticipated outcomes, from an array of existing interrelated systems. These are designers that do not understand themselves to be in the center of the system. Rather, they understand themselves to be participants, shaping the systems that interact with other forces, ideas, events and other designers. This essay is an exploration of what it means to participate.
The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement by Danny Hillis:
As our technological and institutional creations have become more complex, our relationship to them has changed. We now relate to them as we once related to nature. Instead of being masters of our creations, we have learned to bargain with them, cajoling and guiding them in the general direction of our goals. We have built our own jungle, and it has a life of its own.
Friday, March 4th, 2016
Thursday, March 3rd, 2016
Create a Medium story from an RSS feed - IFTTT
If you’re thinking about syndicating to Medium from your own site, this is probably the simplest way to do it—let If This, Then That take care of faffing about with the API.
Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
A very lightweight script for toggling the appearance of elements in an accessible way.
Atomic Classification | Trent Walton
There is one truism that has been constant throughout my career on the web, and it’s this: naming things is hard.
Trent talks about the strategies out there for naming things. He makes specific mention of Atomic Design, which as Brad is always at pains to point out, is just one way of naming things: atoms, molecules, organisms, etc.
In some situations, having that pre-made vocabulary is perfect. In other situations, I’ve seen it cause all sorts of problems. It all depends on the project and the people.
Personally, I like the vocabulary to emerge from the domain knowledge of the people on the project. Building a newspaper website? Use journalism-related terms. Making a website about bicycles? Use bike-related terms.
Most importantly, make the naming process a collaborative exercise, as outlined by Alla and Charlotte.
James and I went to Ipswich last week for work. But this wasn’t part of an ongoing project—this was a short intense one-week feasibility study.
Leon from Suffolk Libraries got in touch with us about a project they’re planning to carry out soon: replacing their self-service machines with something more up-to-date. But rather than dive into commissioning the project straight away, he wisely decided to start with a one-week sprint to figure out exactly what the project would need to go ahead.
So that’s what James and I did. It was somewhat similar to the design sprint popularised by GV. We ensconced ourselves in the Ipswich library and packed a whole lot of work into five days. There was lots of collaboration, lots of sketching, lots of iterative design, and some rough’n’ready code. It was challenging, but a lot of fun. Also: we stayed in a pretty sweet AirBnB.
You can read all about it in our case study. You can also read all about from Leon’s point of view on his blog:
I can’t recommend this kind of research sprint enough. We got a report, detailed technical validation of an idea, mock ups and a plan for how to proceed, while getting staff and stakeholders involved in the project – all in the space of 5 days.
I think this approach makes a lot of sense. By the end of the week, James and I felt pretty confident about estimating times and costs for the full project. Normally trying to estimate that kind of thing can be a real guessing game. But with the small of investment of one week’s worth of effort, you get a whole lot more certainty and confidence.
A Complete History of the Millennium Falcon — Kitbashed
Everything you never knew you wanted to know about the Millennium Falcon, wrapped up in one unsurprisingly insanely detailed essay from Michael.
Tuesday, March 1st, 2016
Progressive Web Apps London
On the same day—and in the same city—as that Mobile @Scale event that Facebook are hosting, Google are hosting their own free event all about Progressive Web Apps, the buzziest of buzzwords.
Shame I can’t be in two places at once.
I’m speaking at this event at Facebook in London on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll be there representing the web.
It’s free to attend, but you need to request an invitation.
Running The Session and Huffduffer is immensely rewarding …most of the time. There are occasions when the actions of a few bad apples make it a real pain in the bum.
Yes, I’m talking about SEO spammers.
Huffduffer tends to get it worse than The Session, but even then it’s fairly manageable—just a sign-up or two here or there. This weekend though, there was a veritable spam tsunami. I was up late on Friday night playing a constant game of whack-a-mole with thousands of spam postings by newly-created accounts. (I’m afraid I inadvertently may have deleted some genuine new accounts in the trawl; if you signed up for Huffduffer last Friday and can’t access your account now, I’m really, really sorry.)
Normally these spam SEO accounts would have some pattern to them—either they’d be from the same block of IP addresses or they’d have similar emails. But these all looked different enough to thwart any quick fixes. I knew I’d be spending my Saturday writing some spam-blocking code.
Most “social” websites have a similar sign-up flow: you fill in a form with your details (including your email address), and then you have to go to your email client to click a link to verify that you are indeed who you claim to be. The cynical side of me thinks that this is mostly to verify that you providing a genuine email address so that the site can send you marketing crap.
Neither Huffduffer nor The Session includes that second step of confirming your email address. The only reason for providing your email address is so that you can reset your password if you ever forget it.
I’ve always felt that making a new user break out of the sign-up flow to go check their email was a bit shit. It also strikes me as following the same logic as CAPTCHAs (which I hate): “Because of the bad actions of a minority, we’re going to punish the majority by making them prove to us that they’re human.” It’s such a machine-centric way of thinking.
But after the splurge of spam on Huffduffer, I figured I’d have no choice but to introduce that extra step. Just as I was about to start coding, I thought to myself “No, this is wrong. There must be another way.”
I thought a bit more about the problem. The issue wasn’t so much about spam sign-ups per se. Like I said, there’s always been a steady trickle and it isn’t too onerous to find them and delete them. The problem was the sheer volume of spam posts in a short space of time.
I ended up writing some different code with this logic:
- When someone posts to Huffduffer, check to see if they’ve posted at least ten items in the past;
- If they have, grab the timestamps for the last ten posts;
- Calculate the cumulative elapsed time between those ten posts;
- If it’s less than 100 seconds (i.e. an average of one post every ten seconds), delete the user …and delete everything they’ve ever posted.
It worked. I watched as new spam sign-ups began to hammer the site with spam postings …only to self-destruct when they hit the critical mass of posts over time.
I’m still getting SEO spammers signing up but now they’re back to manageable levels. I’m glad that I didn’t end up having to punish genuine new users of Huffduffer for the actions of a few SEO marketing bottom-feeders.