Archive: June, 2017

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Friday, June 30th, 2017

Rolling out the red carpet for Patterns Day.

Rolling out the red carpet for Patterns Day.

Preparing to open the doors for Patterns Day.

Preparing to open the doors for Patterns Day.

Getting a briefing from @AlisPie for Patterns Day.

Getting a briefing from @AlisPie for Patterns Day.

Up and atom for Patterns Day!

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Catching up on videos from the Indie Web Summit at Homebrew Website Club Brighton.

Catching up on videos from the Indie Web Summit at Homebrew Website Club Brighton.

Mentoring for the junior mentor | Charlotte Jackson, Front-end developer

Charlotte shares her thoughts on the elements of a fruitful mentorship:

  • Learn from each other
  • Find the right level of challenge
  • Reach out
  • Meet with intent
  • Offer feedback and ask for feedback

Brightonians—it’s Homebrew Website Club this evening at 6pm in @68MiddleSt

cc. @paulrobertlloyd @cassiecodes @aboydleslie @ambrwlsn90 @jina

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

map

Checked in at The Basketmakers Arms. with Jina, Amber

Design systems - Alla Kholmatova

Here’s the website for Alla’s forthcoming book. You can sign up to a low-volume mailing list to get notified of updates.

Meet “Design Systems”, A New Smashing Book (Pre-Release) – Smashing Magazine

Alla’s book is going to be a must-have (I know because I’ve been reviewing it as she’s been writing it). Pre-order it now. It’s out in September.

Progressing the web

Frances has written up some of the history behind her minting of the term “progressive web app”. She points out that accuracy is secondary to marketing:

I keep seeing folks (developers) getting all smart-ass saying they should have been PW “Sites” not “Apps” but I just want to put on the record that it doesn’t matter. The name isn’t for you and worrying about it is distraction from just building things that work better for everyone. The name is for your boss, for your investor, for your marketeer.

Personally, I think “progressive web app” is a pretty good phrase—two out of three words in it are spot on. I really like the word “progressive”, with its echoes of progressive enhancement. I really, really like the word “web”. But, yeah, I’m one of those smart-asses who points out that the “app” part isn’t great.

That’s not just me being a pedant (or, it’s not only me being a pedant). I’ve seen people who were genuinely put off investigating the technologies behind progressive web apps because of the naming.

Here’s an article with the spot-on title Progressive Web Apps — The Next Step In Responsive Web Design:

Late last week, Smashing Magazine, one of the largest and most influential online publications for web design, posted on Facebook that their website was “now running as a Progressive Web App.”

Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. Progressive Web Apps are for the hardcore web application developers creating the next online cloud-based Photoshop (complicated stuff), right? I scrolled on and went about my day.

And here’s someone feeling the cognitive dissonance of turning a website into a progressive web app, even though that’s exactly the right thing to do:

My personal website is a collection of static HTML files and is also a progressive web app. Transforming it into a progressive web app felt a bit weird in the beginning because it’s not an actual application but I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and PWAs still offer a lot of additional improvements.

Still, it could well be that these are the exceptions and that most people are not being discouraged by the “app” phrasing. I certainly hope that there aren’t more people out there thinking “well, progressive web apps aren’t for me because I’m building a content site.”

In short, the name might not be perfect but it’s pretty damn good.

What I find more troubling is the grouping of unrelated technologies under the “progressive web app” banner. If Google devrel events were anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for thinking that progressive web apps have something to do with AMP or Polymer (they don’t). One of the great things about progressive web apps is that they are agnostic to tech stacks. Still, I totally get why Googlers would want to use the opportunity to point to their other projects.

Far more troubling is the entanglement of the term “progressive web app” with the architectural choice of “single page app”. I’m not the only one who’s worried about this.

Here’s the most egregious example: an article on Hacker Noon called Before You Build a PWA You Need a SPA.

No! Not true! Literally any website can be a progressive web app:

That last step can be tricky if you’re new to service workers, but it’s not unsurmountable. It’s certainly a lot easier than completely rearchitecting your existing website to be a JavaScript-driven single page app.

Alas, I think that many of the initial poster-children for progressive web apps gave the impression that you had to make a completely separate app/site at a different URL. It was like a return to the bad old days of m. sites for mobile. The Washington Post’s progressive web app (currently offline) went so far as to turn away traffic from the “wrong” browsers. This is despite the fact that the very first item in the list of criteria for a progressive web app is:

Responsive: to fit any form factor

Now, I absolutely understand that the immediate priority is to demonstrate that a progressive web app can compete with a native mobile app in terms of features (and trounce it in terms of installation friction). But I’m worried that in our rush to match what native apps can do, we may end up ditching the very features that make the web a universally-accessible medium. Killing URLs simply because native apps don’t have URLs is a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bath water:

Up until now I’ve been a big fan of Progressive Web Apps. I understood them to be combining the best of the web (responsiveness, linkability) with the best of native (installable, connectivity independent). Now I see that balance shifting towards the native end of the scale at the expense of the web’s best features. I’d love to see that balance restored with a little less emphasis on the “Apps” and a little more emphasis on the “Web.” Now that would be progressive.

If the goal of the web is just to compete with native, then we’ve set the bar way too low.

So if you’ve been wary of investing the technologies behind progressive web apps because you’re “just” building a website, please try to see past the name. As Frances says:

It’s marketing, just like HTML5 had very little to do with actual HTML. PWAs are just a bunch of technologies with a zingy-new brandname.

Literally any website can—and should—be a progressive web app. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I was at an event last year where I heard Chris Heilmann say that you shouldn’t make your blog into a progressive web app. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He repeats that message in this video chat:

When somebody, for example, turns their blog into a PWA, I don’t see the point. I don’t want to have that icon on my homepage. This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Excuse me!? Just because you don’t want to have someone’s icon on your home screen, that person shouldn’t be using state-of-the-art technologies!? Excuse my French, but Fuck. That. Shit!

Our imaginations have become so limited by what native mobile apps currently do that we can’t see past merely imitating the status quo like a sad cargo cult.

I don’t want the web to equal native; I want the web to surpass it. I, for one, would prefer a reality where my home screen isn’t filled with the icons of startups and companies that have fulfilled the criteria of the gatekeepers. But a home screen filled with the faces of people who didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission to publish? That’s what I want!

Like Frances says:

Remember, this is for everyone.

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Naming Progressive Web Apps | fberriman

AMP is a symptom that someone, somewhere, thinks the web is failing so badly (so slow, so unresponsive) for a portion of the world that they want to take all the content and package it back up in a sterile, un-webby, branded box. That makes me so sad. PWAs, to me, are a potential treatment.

Patterns Day: shirt’s gettin’ real.

Patterns Day: shirt’s gettin’ real.

Ramen. 🍜

Ramen. 🍜

Grillin’.

Grillin’.

Greek salad. 🥗

Greek salad. 🥗

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Oats Studios - Volume 1 - Rakka - YouTube

The first of Neil Bomkamp’s series of short films—testbeds for potential feature films.

Daring Fireball: Medium and the Scourge of Persistent Sharing Dickbars

A website should not fight the browser. Let the browser provide the chrome, and simply provide the content.

This post is about Medium, but I think there’s a lesson here for progressive web apps too. A progressive web app should not fight the browser. Are you listening, Google?

Service Worker gotchas

A great collection of learned lessons from implementing service workers.

I really, really like it when people share their own personal experiences and “gotchas!” like this.

Aspect Ratios in CSS are a Hack | Bram.us

Bram hopes for a way to define aspect ratios natively in CSS. We can sort of manage it now, but all the solutions are pretty hacky.

Implementing a slider well

A look at the feedback needed for a slider control that feels “right”.

You can get most of the behavioural (though not styling) suggestions in HTML by doing this:

<form>
  <input type="range" min="0" max="100" value="50"
   onchange="amount.value=this.value"
   onmousemove="amount.value=this.value">
  <output name="amount">50</output>
</form>

The Equilateral Triangle of a Perfect Paragraph | Better Web Type

This is a fun game (I scored a measly 73/100). The idea is to develop a feeling for the balance between font-size, line-height, and line length …just like the three sides of an equilateral triangle.

Too many of them still set line-height, font size and line width as independent features when in fact they should all be considered together. The equilateral triangle is a perfect representation of how the three features work in harmony.

Out of the (Drop)Shadows | Scott Jensen Design

Can an opinionated flat design still have depth and truly be free of drop shadows?

Scott proposes a technique that mimics atmospheric perspective—y’know, when things in the distance look hazier than things in the foreground.

The fact is, we are surrounded by a world that is full of depth, and very little of it is defined by shadow. If we are going to replace drop shadows in our visual UI metaphors, we should look at other options that create depth in the world around us.

Pure CSS crossword - CSS Grid

Form validation taken to the extreme. If you want to know more about how it was done, there’s an article explaining the markup and CSS.

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

Checked in at Anchor Inn. Having a post-kayaking pint — with Jessica map

Checked in at Anchor Inn. Having a post-kayaking pint — with Jessica

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

One week to Patterns Day

Greetings!

Patterns Day is one week from today—Friday, June 30th. I’m really looking forward to seeing you in Brighton.

If you’re arriving by train, the venue is a short walk away from the train station. The Duke Of York’s Picture House is at Preston Circus. You’ll recognise the building by its distinctive pair of artificial can-can legs emerging from the roof.

http://tinyurl.com/patternsday

Registration starts at 9am. Show up with some ID, speak friend, and enter. Patterns Day is going to be a bit different to most conferences. Instead of getting a schwag bag and a name badge on a lanyard, you’re going to get a sticker to slap on yourself. The sticker identifies you as an attendee so please don’t lose it.

Once you’re registered, please help yourself to the free coffee, tea, and pastries. I’ll open up the show shortly before 10am with some introductory remarks, and then we’ll be all set for our first speaker at 10am. Here’s how the schedule is shaping up (but always subject to change):

https://adactio.com/journal/12409

There won’t be any conference WiFi. This is by design.

There’ll be a nice long lunch break from 12:30pm to 2pm. You’ll find plenty of tasty options in the neighbourhood. I’ve listed just a few on the Patterns Day website:

https://patternsday.com/#venue

There’ll be more coffee and tea throughout the day, and maybe a nice bag of popcorn in the afternoon.

We’ll finish up before 5pm, at which point we can collectively retire to a nearby pub to continue our discussions. Or we can head to the seafront to douse our melting brains in the English channel. Let’s play it by ear.

I can’t wait to welcome you to Patterns Day, and I’m positively aquiver with anticipation of the talks we’re going to hear from the fantastic line-up of speakers: Laura, Ellen, Sareh, Rachel, Alice, Jina, Paul, and Alla.

See you soon!

—Jeremy

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Purists versus Pragmatists

How the IETF redefined the process of creating standards.

To some visionary pioneers, such as Ted Nelson, who had been developing a purist hypertext paradigm called Xanadu for decades, the browser represented an undesirably messy direction for the evolution of the Internet. To pragmatists, the browser represented important software evolving as it should: in a pluralistic way, embodying many contending ideas, through what the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) calls “rough consensus and running code.”

Oh No! Our Stylesheet Only Grows and Grows and Grows! (The Append-Only Stylesheet Problem) | CSS-Tricks

I think Chris is on to something here when he identifies one of the biggest issues with CSS growing out of control:

The developers are afraid of the CSS.

Clippy — CSS clip-path maker

A handy tool with some pre-made CSS clip paths that you can then tweak to your heart’s desire.

And now, a brief definition of the web - The Verge

Analysing what the web is. It’s not the technology stack.

To count as being part of the web, your app or page must:

  1. Be linkable, and
  2. Allow any client to access it.

I think that’s a pretty good definition.

Mind you, I think this is a bit rich in an article published on The Verge:

The HTML web may be slow and annoying and processor intensive, but before we rush too fast into replacing it, let’s not lose what’s good about it.

Excuse me? Slow, annoying, processor-intensive web pages have nothing to do with the technology, and everything to do with publishers like The Verge shoving bucketloads of intrusive JavaScript trackers into every page view.

Still, we can agree on this:

Preserving the web, or more specifically the open principles behind it, means protecting one of the few paths for innovation left in the modern tech world that doesn’t have a giant company acting as a gatekeeper.

Code clarity - Anthony Ricaud

Breaking down programming tasks into smaller chunks …and naming things.

I’ll take a piece of paper and write the function names I’m going to implement. Or I’ll do it directly in my code editor, with real functions or comments.

It allows you to focus on one problem at a time. When you’re writing those function names, you are thinking about what the code should be doing. When you’re implementing the functions, you are thinking about how the code should do it.

Using CSS variables correctly - Mike Riethmuller

Mike examines the real power of CSS custom properties compared to Sass variables—they can change at runtime.

I’m convinced that in almost all cases, responsive design logic should now be contained in variables. There is a strong argument too, that when changing any value, whether in a media query or an element scope, it belongs in a variable. If it changes, it is by definition a variable and this logic should be separated from design.

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Hashbang URLs considered foul and unruly.

Hashbang URLs considered foul and unruly.

Checked in at Small Bar. with Jessica map

Checked in at Small Bar. with Jessica

Reading Grass by Sheri S. Tepper.

Checked in at The Apple. Apple and rhubarb cider — with Jessica map

Checked in at The Apple. Apple and rhubarb cider — with Jessica

Going to Bristol. brb

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Checked in at The Colonnade Bar map

Checked in at The Colonnade Bar

Standard Ebooks: Free and liberated ebooks, carefully produced for the true book lover.

Beautifully designed and typeset eBooks of royalty-free works—yours for the taking and reading.

There’s a styleguide if you want to get involved on the production side too.

Monday, June 19th, 2017

map

Checked in at The Fiddler’s Elbow. Having a pint and some tunes. 🍻 🎶 — with Jessica

Beach beer.

Beach beer.

Cooling down.

Cooling down.

The Breakfast at Dishoom Club.

The Breakfast at Dishoom Club.

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Microformats : Meaningful HTML

A great one-page intro to microformats (h-card in particular), complete with a parser that exports JSON. Bookmark this for future reference.

IndieWebifying my website: part 1, the why & how – AltPlatform

Richard MacManus begins to document the process of making his website part of the indie web.

Beyond Curie—a design project celebrating women in STEM

Beyond Curie is a design project that highlights badass women in science, technology, engineering + mathematics. 

map

Checked in at Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Belanciaga — with Jessica

Checked in at Dishoom. Breakfast — with Jessica map

Checked in at Dishoom. Breakfast — with Jessica

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

Checked in at The Commercial Tavern. with Jessica map

Checked in at The Commercial Tavern. with Jessica

Bumming around London with some friends (in Shoreditch now). What should we do today?

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Checked in at British Airways Galleries Lounge map

Checked in at British Airways Galleries Lounge

The floating head of @harrybr looms over CSS Day.

The floating head of @harrybr looms over CSS Day.

“Progressive funhancement.”

—@ChrisCoyier

Checked in at Compagnietheater map

Checked in at Compagnietheater

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Checked in at BeerTemple map

Checked in at BeerTemple

Everyone's talking about a new interface, but I’m not seeing any difference in my UI.

Everyone’s talking about a new interface, but I’m not seeing any difference in my UI.

Cooling down in Amsterdam after a day of Browser API talks ahead of tomorrow’s CSS Day.

Cooling down in Amsterdam after a day of Browser API talks ahead of tomorrow’s CSS Day.

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

The IndieWeb Movement Will Help People Control Their Own Web Presence?

A pretty good summary of some key indie web ideas.

Going to Amsterdam. brb

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Checked in at Señor Buddha. with Jessica map

Checked in at Señor Buddha. with Jessica

On the beach with a book and a beer.

On the beach with a book and a beer.

The schedule for Patterns Day

There are only seventeen more days until Patterns Day. Squee!

I’ve got a plan now for how the day is going to run. Here’s the plan:

registration
opening remarks
Laura Elizabeth
Ellen deVries
break
Sareh Heidari
Rachel Andrew
lunch break
Alice Bartlett
Jina Anne
break
Paul Lloyd
Alla Kholmatova
closing remarks

There was a great response to my call for sponsors. Thanks to Amazon Video, we’ll have video recordings of all the talks. Thanks to Deliveroo, we’ll have coffee and tea throughout the day …and pastries in the morning! …and popcorn in the afternoon!!

You’re on your own for lunch. I’ve listed some options on the website, but I should add some more.

I have to say, looking at the schedule for the day, I’m very excited about this line-up. To say I’m looking forward to it would be quite the understatement. I can’t wait!

Checked in at Good Companions. Liquid lunch in the sun. map

Checked in at Good Companions. Liquid lunch in the sun.

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Checked in at Franco Manca. Post-movie pizza. — with Jessica map

Checked in at Franco Manca. Post-movie pizza. — with Jessica

Impromptu date with @wordridden to see Wonder Woman.

Impromptu date with @wordridden to see Wonder Woman.

Here are 3 legal cases from the future

  1. People v. Dronimos
  2. Writers v. A.I. Rowling
  3. The Algorithm Defense

2001: A Space Odyssey — A Look Behind the Future - YouTube

The following film describes an unusual motion picture now being produced in London for release all over the world, starting in early 1967.

An intro to web components with otters – Monica Dinculescu

A really great introduction to web components by Monica. But I couldn’t help but be disheartened by this:

Web components tend to have dependencies on other web components, so you need a package manager to herd all them cats.

For me, this kind of interdependence lessens the standalone nature of web components—it just doesn’t feel quite so encapsulated to me. I know that this can be solved with build tools, but now you’ve got two problems (and one more dependency).

Design in the Era of the Algorithm | Big Medium

The transcript of Josh’s fantastic talk on machine learning, voice, data, APIs, and all the other tools of algorithmic design:

The design and presentation of data is just as important as the underlying algorithm. Algorithmic interfaces are a huge part of our future, and getting their design right is critical—and very, very hard to do.

Josh put together ten design principles for conceiving, designing, and managing data-driven products. I’ve added them to my collection.

  1. Favor accuracy over speed
  2. Allow for ambiguity
  3. Add human judgment
  4. Advocate sunshine
  5. Embrace multiple systems
  6. Make it easy to contribute (accurate) data
  7. Root out bias and bad assumptions
  8. Give people control over their data
  9. Be loyal to the user
  10. Take responsibility

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

With New Browser Tech, Apple Preserves Privacy and Google Preserves Trackers | Electronic Frontier Foundation

It’s interesting to see how excessive surveillance is (finally!) being treated as damage and routed around. Apple seem to get it—they’re tackling the tracking issue. Meanwhile Google are focusing purely on the visibility and UX of invasive advertising, without taking steps against tracking.

There’s a huge opportunity here for Chrome’s competitors—if Firefox and Safari protect users from unwarranted tracking, that could be enough to get people to switch, regardless of the feature sets of the browsers.

Grilling lamb.

Grilling lamb.

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Checked in at O'Shio. with Jessica map

Checked in at O’Shio. with Jessica

Summertime on a plate.

Summertime on a plate.

Friday, June 9th, 2017

And the weekend starts now.

And the weekend starts now.

Human Document Project 2017

A conference in my old stomping grounds of Freiburg on archives, preservation, and long-term thinking:

It will present the state of art in long-term archiving as well as the present problems in preservation of information and scientific data in archives and libraries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that, since all conceivable systems are finite but can be quite large, a choice on the contents has to be made. This requires thinking of the human condition: Who we are, what we are and what do we find worth to preserve.

Inclusive Design Principles

I’ve added these to my collection of design principles:

  • Provide comparable experience
  • Consider situation
  • Be consistent
  • Give control
  • Offer choice
  • Prioritise content
  • Add value
It’s been a long week.

It’s been a long week.

Checked in at Street Diner (Friday Street Food Market) map

Checked in at Street Diner (Friday Street Food Market)

map

Checked in at Olly’s Fish Shack. Cilantro Dave in the sun. — with Jessica

Talking with the tall man about poetry

When I started making websites in the 1990s, I had plenty of help. The biggest help came from the ability to view source on any web page—the web was a teacher of itself. I also got plenty of help from people who generously shared their knowledge and experience. There was Jeffrey’s Ask Dr. Web, Steve Champeon’s WebDesign-L mailing list, and Jeff Veen’s articles on Webmonkey. Years later, I was able to meet those people. That was a real privilege.

I’ve known Jeff for over a decade now. He’s gone from Adaptive Path to Google to TypeKit to Adobe to True Ventures, and it’s always fascinating to catch up with him and get his perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

He started up a podcast called Presentable about a year ago. It’s worth having a dig through the archives to have a listen to his chats with people like Andy, Jason, Anna, and Jessica. I was honoured when Jeff asked me to be on the show.

We ended up having a really good chat. It’s out now as Episode 25: The Tenuous Resilience of the Open Web. I really enjoyed having a good ol’ natter, and I hope you might enjoy listening to it.

‘Sfunny, but I feel like a few unplanned themes came up a few times. We ended up talking about art, but also about the scientific aspects of design. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the title of Jeff’s classic book, The Art and Science of Web Design.

We also talked about my most recent book, Resilient Web Design, and that’s when I noticed another theme. When discussing the web-first nature of publishing the book, I described the web version as the canonical version and all the other formats as copies that were generated from that. That sounds a lot like how I describe the indie web—something else we discussed—where you have the canonical instance on your own site but share copies on social networks: Publish on Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere—POSSE.

We also talked about technologies, and it’s entirely possible that we sound like two old codgers on the front porch haranguing those damn kids on the lawn. You can be the judge of that. The audio is available for your huffduffing pleasure. If you enjoy listening to it half as much as I enjoyed doing it, then I enjoyed it twice as much as you.

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

“This is not natural UKIP territory”—said with classic BBC understatement describing Brighton.

Checked in at The Joker. Reading while I wait. map

Checked in at The Joker. Reading while I wait.

Something something post-it notes.

Something something post-it notes.

4 Things I Know About Pattern Libraries - daverupert.com

Dave muses on the challenges of maintaining a pattern library:

  • Rolling out a Pattern Library is infinitely harder than building one.
  • If you don’t have pages, it’s doesn’t solve the problem.
  • Vertical spacing will make or break you.
  • The Pattern Library is dead if it’s not prioritized.

JavaScript Event KeyCodes

A simple little tool for figuring out which keys map to JavaScript keycodes. This’ll save me some googling.

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Victor - WordRidden

This is what Jessica has been working on for the past year—working very hard, I can attest.

This wrap-up post is a fascinating insight into the translation process.

A day without Javascript

Charlie conducts an experiment by living without JavaScript for a day.

So how was it? Well, with just a few minutes of sans-javascript life under my belt, my first impression was “Holy shit, things are fast without javascript”. There’s no ads. There’s no video loading at random times. There’s no sudden interrupts by “DO YOU WANT TO FUCKING SUBSCRIBE?” modals.

As you might expect, lots of sites just don’t work, but there are plenty of sites that work just fine—Google search, Amazon, Wikipedia, BBC News, The New York Times. Not bad!

This has made me appreciate the number of large sites that make the effort to build robust sites that work for everybody. But even on those sites that are progressively enhanced, it’s a sad indictment of things that they can be so slow on the multi-core hyperpowerful Mac that I use every day, but immediately become fast when JavaScript is disabled.

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

Namespaces - daverupert.com

Sometimes our job titles and distinctions feel like the plastic grass in a sushi bento; flimsy and only there for decoration.

Oh noes!

@CERN, your historically significant info. subdomain is down:

http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

Left to our own devices. — Ethan Marcotte

Your website’s only as strong as the weakest device you’ve tested it on.

How the minmax() Function Works

A great description of one of the most powerful features in CSS Grid.

This function opens the door to us being able to write much more powerful and succinct CSS by allowing us to set, as a value for a grid track, a function including both a minimum and maximum value.

Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide

A style guide for voice interfaces.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention | WebKit

This is an excellent move by Apple—interpreting cross-site tracking as damage and routing around it.

Monday, June 5th, 2017

eLife goes live

The World Wide Web was forged in the crucible of science. Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, a remarkable place where the pursuit of knowledge—rather than the pursuit of profit—is the driving force.

I often wonder whether the web as we know it—an open, decentralised system—could’ve been born anywhere else. These days it’s easy to focus on the success stories of the web in the worlds of commerce and social networking, but I still find there’s something that really “clicks” with the web and the science (Zooniverse being a classic example).

At Clearleft we’ve been lucky enough to work on science-driven projects like the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Trust. It’s incredibly rewarding to work on projects where the bottom line is measured in knowledge-sharing rather than moolah. So when we were approached by eLife to help them with an upcoming redesign, we jumped at the chance.

We usually help organisations through our expertise in user-centred design, but in this case the design and UX were already in hand. The challenge was in the implementation. The team at eLife knew that they wanted a modular pattern library to keep their front-end components documented and easily reusable. Given Clearleft’s extensive experience with building pattern libraries, this was a match made in heaven (or whatever the scientific non-theistic equivalent of heaven is).

A group of us travelled up from Brighton to Cambridge to kick things off with a workshop. Before diving into code, it was important to set out the aims for the redesign, and figure out how a pattern library could best support those aims.

Right away, I was struck by the great working relationship between design and front-end development within eLife—there was a great collaborative spirit to the endeavour.

Some goals for the redesign soon emerged:

  • Promote the HTML reading experience as a 1st choice for readers.
  • Align the online experience with the eLife visual identity.

That led to some design principles:

  • Focus on content not site furniture.
  • Remove visual clutter and provide no more than the user needs at any stage of the experience.
  • Aid discovery of value added content beyond the manuscript.

Those design principles then informed the front-end development process. Together we came up with a priority of concerns:

  1. Access
  2. Maintainability
  3. Performance
  4. Taking advantage of browser capabilities
  5. Visual appeal

It’s interesting that maintainability was such a high priority that it superseded even performance, but we also proposed a hypothesis at the same time:

Maintainability doesn’t negatively impact performance.

The combination of the design principles and priorities led us to formulate approaches that could be used throughout the project:

  • Progressive enhancement.
  • Small-screen first responsive images.
  • Only add libraries as needed.

Then we dived into the tech stack: build tools, version control approaches, and naming methodologies. BEM was the winner there.

None of those decisions were set in stone, but they really helped to build a solid foundation for the work ahead. Graham camped out in Cambridge for a while, embedding himself in the team there as they began the process of identifying, naming, and building the components.

The work continued after Clearleft’s involvement wrapped up, and I’m happy to say that it all paid off. The new eLife site has just gone live. It’s looking—and performing—beautifully.

What a great combination: the best of the web and the best of science!

eLife is a non-profit organisation inspired by research funders and led by scientists. Our mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science.

The History Of The Web is such a great newsletter (and timeline)!

http://thehistoryoftheweb.com/

Sterling work from @jay_hoffmann.

Johannes Dachsel – Making my website work offline – a service worker module for Processwire

If you use the ProcessWire Content Management System, Johannes has written a handy plug-in that allows you to specify which files should be cached by a service worker.

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Month maps

One of the topics I enjoy discussing at Indie Web Camps is how we can use design to display activity over time on personal websites. That’s how I ended up with sparklines on my site—it was the a direct result of a discussion at Indie Web Camp Nuremberg a year ago:

During the discussion at Indie Web Camp, we started looking at how silos design their profile pages to see what we could learn from them. Looking at my Twitter profile, my Instagram profile, my Untappd profile, or just about any other profile, it’s a mixture of bio and stream, with the addition of stats showing activity on the site—signs of life.

Perhaps the most interesting visual example of my activity over time is on my Github profile. Halfway down the page there’s a calendar heatmap that uses colour to indicate the amount of activity. What I find interesting is that it’s using two axes of time over a year: days of the month across the X axis and days of the week down the Y axis.

I wanted to try something similar, but showing activity by time of day down the Y axis. A month of activity feels like the right range to display, so I set about adding a calendar heatmap to monthly archives. I already had the data I needed—timestamps of posts. That’s what I was already using to display sparklines. I wrote some code to loop over those timestamps and organise them by day and by hour. Then I spit out a table with days for the columns and clumps of hours for the rows.

Calendar heatmap on Dribbble

I’m using colour (well, different shades of grey) to indicate the relative amounts of activity, but I decided to use size as well. So it’s also a bubble chart.

It doesn’t work very elegantly on small screens: the table is clipped horizontally and can be swiped left and right. Ideally the visualisation itself would change to accommodate smaller screens.

Still, I kind of like the end result. Here’s last month’s activity on my site. Here’s the same time period ten years ago. I’ve also added month heatmaps to the monthly archives for my journal, links, and notes. They’re kind of like an expanded view of the sparklines that are shown with each month.

From one year ago, here’s the daily distribution of

And then here’s the the daily distribution of everything in that month all together.

I realise that the data being displayed is probably only of interest to me, but then, that’s one of the perks of having your own website—you can do whatever you feel like.

Hertzsprung-Russell diagram animation | ESA/Hubble

When I was in Düsseldorf for this year’s excellent Beyond Tellerrand conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Nadieh Bremer, data visualisation designer extraordinaire. I asked her a question which is probably the equivalent of asking a chef what their favourite food is: “what’s your favourite piece of data visualisation?”

There are plenty of popular answers to this question—the Minard map, Jon Snow’s cholera map—but we had just been chatting about Nadieh’s previous life in astronomy, so one answer popped immediately to mind: the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

Aurora

I remember when I was first recommended to read Kim Stanley Robinson. I was chatting with Jon Tan about science fiction, and I was bemoaning the fact that dystopias seem to be the default setting. Asking "what’s the worst that could happen?" is the over-riding pre-occupation of most sci-fi. Black Mirror is the perfect example of this. Mind you, that’s probably why the ambiguous San Junipero is one of my favourites—utopia? dystopia? dystutopia? You decide.

Anyway, Jon told me I should check out Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias; one book describes a dystopia, one book describes a utopia, and the other—his debut, The Wild Shore—is more ambiguous. I liked the sound of that, but I decided that if I were going to read Kim Stanley Robinson, I should start with his most famous work, the Mars trilogy.

So I read Red Mars. I liked it, but I found it tough going. It’s not exactly a light read. I still haven’t read Green Mars or Blue Mars, though I plan to. I can see why Red Mars is regarded as a classic of hard sci-fi, but it left me somewhat cold. Jessica read The Years of Rice and Salt and had a similar reaction—good premise, thoroughly researched, but tough going.

When I heard about 2312, I couldn’t resist its promise of a jaunt around the solar system. Again, I enjoyed it, but the plot—such as it was—didn’t grab me. I loved the ideas presented in the book. Heck, it inspired one of my Science Hack Day projects. Still, I found that its literary conceit wasn’t enough to carry the book—a character from Saturn who’s saturnian in nature meets a character from Mercury who’s mercurial in nature.

So I was kind of bracing myself for Aurora. Again, the subject matter really appealed to me. I’m a sucker for generation starships. Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop was a fun read, although in typical Aldiss style, it was weird to the point of psychedelia (even if it looks positively tame next to the batshit crazy world of Hothouse). I was looking forward to reading Robinson’s hard science take on the space ark idea, but I was worried about how much of a slog the writing might be. I read some reviews and listened to some podcasts, and my heart sank when I heard about how the story is partly told by the ship’s AI, who is simultaneously trying to work out how to tell a story. It sounded just like one of those ideas that would be fine for a brief period, but which I could imagine Kim Stanley Robinson dragging out for hundreds of page.

Imagine my surprise when Aurora turned out to be an absolute pleasure. Not only does it have the thoroughly-researched hard science angle of Robinson’s other books, it’s also a rip-roaring tale, in my opinion. I had read of misgivings with the structure of the book—complaints that the story climaxes before the book is halfway done—but I think that misses the point of the story. This is not your typical tale of colonisation. Far from it. Kim Stanley Robinson is quite open about the underlying idea here, that there are certain endeavours that are simply beyond our capacity.

I know that sounds like a very pessimistic view, but I found the book to be a real testament to human ingenuity. But it certainly ruffled quite a few feathers. Like I said, the default setting for most sci-fi is to go negative, but for a sci-fi writer to claim outright that something cannot be done is audacious, and flies in the face of sci-fi tradition.

Gregory Benford wrote a review over on one of my favourite blogs, Centauri Dreams. He takes Robinson to task for stacking the deck against the crew of the ship in Aurora—an inversion of the usual deus ex machina plot devices. I find that criticism puzzling when another review, also on Centauri Dreams, by Stephen Baxter, James Benford and Joseph Miller, takes the book to task for being scientifically naïve.

For me, Aurora was perfectly balanced. It simultaneously captured the wonder of scientific exploration and our own insignificance in the universe. Best of all, it featured central characters that I was utterly invested in—one human, and one artificial. Given my previous experiences with Kim Stanley Robinson books, that was perhaps its greatest achievement. Whereas I might have previously recommended something like 2312, I would have certainly caveated the recommendation. But I wholeheartedly recommend Aurora. It’s easily the best Kim Stanley Robinson book I’ve read so far, and one of the finest science fiction books of recent years. It makes a great companion piece to Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves—not only are they both dealing with space arks, they’ve also got some in-depth descriptions of angular momentum in action, and they’re both thoroughly enjoyable stories that stretch beyond a single human lifespan.

I’m looking forward to digging back through Kim Stanley Robinson’s back catalogue, and I’m very intrigued by his newest book, New York 2140. From listening to his Long Now talk at The Interval, it sounds like the book has as much to say about near-future economics as it does about climate change.

It’s ironic though. Kim Stanley Robinson was first recommended to me because he was one of the few sci-fi writers unafraid to depict a utopia. But his writing never clicked with me until I read Aurora, whose central message sounds like the ultimate downer …that some scientific achievements will forever remain out of reach for humanity.

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

Aye, there’s the rub…

Aye, there’s the rub…

Christina Xu: Convenient Friction: Observations on Chinese UX in Practice on Vimeo

This was my favourite talk from this year’s Interaction conference—packed full of insights, and delivered superbly.

It prompted so many thoughts, I found myself asking a question during the Q&A.

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Having a @beerleft Burly Wood on the beach to end the working week.

Having a @beerleft Burly Wood on the beach to end the working week.

I’m about to write something about AppCache. I’m thinking of doing it in the style of H.P. Lovecraft.

Checked in at Street Diner (Friday Street Food Market). Steak sandwich. — with Jessica map

Checked in at Street Diner (Friday Street Food Market). Steak sandwich. — with Jessica

Daring Fireball: Fuck Facebook

…a full one-third of my window is covered by a pop-over trying to get me to sign in or sign up for Facebook. I will go out of my way to avoid linking to websites that are hostile to users with pop-overs. (For example, I’ve largely stopped linking to anything from Wired, because they have such an aggressive anti-ad-block detection scheme. Fuck them.)

Same.

Facebook forbids search engines from indexing Facebook posts. Content that isn’t indexable by search engines is not part of the open web.

And then there’s this:

And in the same way they block indexing by search engines, Facebook forbids The Internet Archive from saving copies of posts.

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

Perfect viewing conditions for the ISS flyover tonight—it was intensely bright against the clear night sky.

Checked in at The Joker. Wing night! — with Jessica map

Checked in at The Joker. Wing night! — with Jessica

Pinboard Acquires Delicious

Oh my goodness! Maciej is channelling Jason Scott:

Delicious has over a billion bookmarks and is a fascinating piece of web history. Even Yahoo, for whom mismanagement is usually effortless, had to work hard to keep Delicious down. I bought it in part so it wouldn’t disappear from the web.

Adding @j9t’s Principles of Web Development to my collection of design principles:

https://principles.adactio.com/#meiert

Lost My Name Design System

The really nicely documented design system for Lost My Name.

They’ve also written up the process of creating the design system which includes a refreshingly honest account of missteps made along the way—very valuable!

Today’s oyster.

Today’s oyster.

On the beach with @Clearleft.

On the beach with @Clearleft.