Archive: June 1st, 2018

Four short stories and what I learnt writing them (31 May., 2018, at Interconnected)

I’ve been enjoying the stories over on Upsideclown so it’s great to get a peak inside Matt’s writing brain here.

I also happen to really, really like his four stories:

  1. Moving House
  2. The search for another intelligence
  3. The Ursa Major Moving Group
  4. Volume Five

I wouldn’t say I’m great at writing fiction. I find it tough. It is the easiest thing in the world for me to pick holes in what I’ve written. So instead, as an exercise—and as some personal positive reinforcement—I want to remind myself what I learnt writing each one, and also what I like.

Document

A little while back, I showed Paul what I was working on with The Gęsiówka Story. I value his opinion and I really like the Bradshaw’s Guide project that he’s been working on. We’re both in complete agreement with Russell Davies’ call for an internet of unmonetisable enthusiasms. Call them side projects if you like, but for me, these are the things that the World Wide Web excels at.

These unomentisable enthusiasms/side projects are what got me hooked on the web in the first place. Fray.com—back when it was a website for personal stories—was what really made the web click for me. I had seen brochure sites, I had seen e-commerce sites, but it was seeing something built purely for the love of it that caused that lightbulb moment for me.

I told Paul about another site I remembered from that time (we’re talking about the mid-to-late nineties here). It was called Private Art. It was the work of one family, the children of Private Art Pranger who served in World War Two and wrote letters from the front. Without any expectations, I did a quick search, and amazingly, the site is still up!

Yes, it’s got tiled background images, and the framesetted content is in a pop-up window, but it works. The site hasn’t been updated for fifteen years but it works perfectly in a web browser today. That’s kind of amazing. We really shouldn’t take the longevity of our materials for granted. Could you imagine trying to open a word processing document from the late nineties on your computer today? You’d have a bad time.

Working on The Gęsiówka Story helped to remind me of some of the things that made me fall in love with the web in the first place. What I wrote about it is equally true of Private Art:

When we talk about documents on the web, we usually use the word “document” as a noun. But working on The Gęsiówka Story, I came to think of the word “document” as a verb.

The World Wide Web is a medium that’s works for quick, short-term lightweight bits of fun and also for long-term, deeper, slower, thoughtful archives of our collective culture.

The web is a many-splendoured thing.

Let’s make the grimy architecture of the web visible again by Russell Davies

Beneath the URL shorteners, the web!

It’s increasingly apparent that a more digitally literate citizenry would be good for a thousand different reasons. A great way to start would be to make URLs visible again, to let people see the infrastructure they’re living in.

A cartoon intro to DNS over HTTPS – Mozilla Hacks – the Web developer blog

This is a great illustrated explanation of how DNS resolution works.

CSS Is So Overpowered It Can Deanonymize Facebook Users

First of all, don’t panic—this browser vulnerability has been fixed, so the headline is completely out of proportion to the reality. But my goodness, this was a clever technique!

The technique relies on luring users to a malicious site where the attacker embeds iframes to other sites. In their example, the two embedded iframes for one of Facebook’s social widgets, but other sites are also susceptible to this issue.

The attack consists of overlaying a huge stack of DIV layers with different blend modes on top of the iframe. These layers are all 1x1 pixel-sized, meaning they cover just one pixel of the iframe.

Habalov and Weißer say that depending on the time needed to render the entire stack of DIVs, an attacker can determine the color of that pixel shown on the user’s screen.

The researchers say that by gradually moving this DIV “scan” stack across the iframe, “it is possible to determine the iframe’s content.”