Archive: On this day

May 12th, 2020

as days pass by — Hammer and nails

We don’t give people a website any more: something that already works, just HTML and CSS and JavaScript ready to show them what they want. Instead, we give them the bits from which a website is made and then have them compile it.

Spot-on description of “modern” web development. When did this become tolerable, much less normal?

Web developers: maybe stop insisting that your users compile your apps for you? Or admit that you’ll put them through an experience that you certainly don’t tolerate on your own desktops, where you expect to download an app, not to be forced to compile it every time you run it?

The History of the Future

It me:

Although some communities have listed journalists as “essential workers,” no one claims that status for the keynote speaker. The “work” of being a keynote speaker feels even more ridiculous than usual these days.

Robin Rendle ・ Notes about product design

Some good thought morsels from Robin on product design:

Bad product design is when folks talk more about the UI than what the UI is built on top of.

There’s a lot of talk about how great design is invisible—mostly boring conversations with little substance—but! I think that’s true when it comes to product design.

Bad product design is when your interface looks like your org chart.

Playing The Killarney Boys Of Pleasure (reel) on bouzouki:

https://thesession.org/tunes/733

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMDK9q9wbHE

The Killarney Boys Of Pleasure (reel) on bouzouki

May 12th, 2019

IndieWebCamp Düsseldorf 2019 | 2 | Flickr

Today was a good day …and here are the very good photos.

IMG_2295

Replying to a tweet from @sonniesedge

Thanks to @aaronpk, I think I’ve also found a way to post replies without having to preface it with the at-username.

Into the Personal-Website-Verse · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer

There is one alternative to social media sites and publishing platforms that has been around since the early, innocent days of the web. It is an alternative that provides immense freedom and control: The personal website. It’s a place to write, create, and share whatever you like, without the need to ask for anyone’s permission.

A wonderful and inspiring call to arms for having your own website—a place to express yourself, and a playground, all rolled into one.

Building and maintaining your personal website is an investment that is challenging and can feel laborious at times. Be prepared for that. But what you will learn along the way does easily make up for all the effort and makes the journey more than worthwhile.

Replying to a tweet from @ppk

@ppk See you soon!

Replying to a tweet from @sonniesedge

@sonniesedge Live demos? Don’t talk to me about live demos!

Replying to a tweet from @t

@t Looking good!

Replying to a post on aaronparecki.com

@aaronpk I’m testing my replies’n’stuff.

Replying to a post on aaronparecki.com

Tables are weird!

Brendan Dawes - Permission to Write Stuff

A beautiful post by Brendan, comparing the ease of publishing on the web to the original Flip camera:

Right now there’s a real renaissance of people getting back to blogging on their own sites again. If you’ve been putting it off, think about the beauty and simplicity of that red button, press it, and try and help make the web the place it was always meant to be.

May 12th, 2018

I Used The Web For A Day With JavaScript Turned Off — Smashing Magazine

Following on from Charlie’s experiment last year, Chris Ashton has been assessing which sites rely on JavaScript, and which sites use it in a more defensive, resilient way. Some interesting results in here.

A good core experience is indicative of a well-structured web page, which, in turn, is usually a good sign for SEO and for accessibility. It’s usually a well designed web page, as the designer and developer have spent time and effort thinking about what’s truly core to the experience. Progressive enhancement means more robust experiences, with fewer bugs in production and fewer individual browser quirks, because we’re letting the platform do the job rather than trying to write it all from scratch.

Segmented type appreciation corner

Marcin built this lovely little in-browser tool to demonstrate how segmented type displays work at different sizes.

May 12th, 2017

Going to Düsseldorf. brb

The cost of change | The White Site

Ben points to a new product aiming to ease the pain of connected devices bumping up against the harsh realities of shearing layers:

By exposing the ‘hardwiring’ of our electrical systems, Conduct emphasises how much we rely on existing systems to power our ‘new’ technology – the rate of change and advancement in our traditional technologies moves at a much slower pace than our mobile app-based world and there are physical limitations as a result of this hardwired legacy.

I am—unsurprisingly—in favour of exposing the seams like this.

Uncensorable Wikipedia on IPFS

I think this might be the first large-scale practical demonstration of the InterPlanetary File System: routing around the damage of Turkey’s censorship of Wikipedia.

Nick Jones - Interface Prototyper / Designer

A really interesting and well-executed portfolio site, utterly let down by the tone of this demeaning and insulting piece of copy:

WARNING: Do not proceed if you suffer from vertigo or if you find experimental interfaces offensive.

(Pssst: copy is also interface.)

Amber Wilson: HTTPS Poem

How wonderful is this‽ The latest research task I set for Amber was on HTTPS, and she has delivered her findings …as a poem!

May 12th, 2016

Archiving Our Online Communities — Medium

Now this is how you shut down a service:

  • Maintain read-only URLs for at least ten years.
  • Create physical copies etched in metal held by cultural institutions for ten thousand years.
  • Allow users to export their data (of course).

Web projects often lack hard edges. They begin with clarity but end without. We want to close Hi.co with clarity. To properly bookend the website.

And nary a trace of “We are excited to announce…” or “Thank you for joining us on our incredible journey…”

(Such a shame that the actual shut-down notice is only on Ev’s blog, but hopefully Craig will write something on his own site too.)

To the Class of 2050 - The New Yorker

Remember: life is ten per cent what happens to you, ten per cent how you respond to it, and eighty per cent how good your reflexes are when the Tall Ones come at your throat with their pincers.

The inside story of Facebook’s biggest setback | Rahul Bhatia | Technology | The Guardian

The history of Facebook’s attempt to steamroll over net neutrality in India …and how they failed in that attempt, thanks to a grassroots campaign.

Crucially, Facebook itself would decide which sites were included on the platform. The company had positioned Internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour — backed by Zuckerberg’s lofty pronouncements that “connectivity is a human right” — but retained total control of the platform.

The Sonos Pattern Library — zdfs

There’s a lot I disagree with here. I don’t think this pattern library process is very elegant or scalable, and it certainly wouldn’t work for me.

But I’m still linking to it. Why? Because I think it’s absolutely wonderful that people share their processes like this. It doesn’t matter one whit whether or not it would work for me.

Frontend development may have gotten a lot more complicated, but the simple premise of sharing what you’ve learned hasn’t.

I couldn’t agree more!

Apple’s actual role in podcasting: be careful what you wish for – Marco.org

Marco is spot on here. The New York Times article he’s responding to is filled with a weird Stockholm syndrome—the one bit of the web that’s still free of invasive tracking and surveillance is where they wish a centralised power (like Apple) would come in and lock down. Madness!

John sums it up nicely:

Data data data. Publishers crave data — but one of the things I love about podcasts is that the format blocks the collection of most data, because there is no code that gets executed. JavaScript has brought the web to the brink of ruin, but there’s no JavaScript in podcasting. Just an RSS feed and MP3 files.

How Literature Became Word Perfect | New Republic

An engaging look at the history of word processing, word processed by Josephine Livingstone.

May 12th, 2015

Oh, this is a cute little easter egg in the sidebar:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Bletchley%20Park

“Indieweb: Die Daten Sind Wir!”

“Indieweb: Die Daten Sind Wir!”

100 words 051

I’ve been thinking about what Harry said recently about logic in CSS. I think he makes an astute observation.

You can think of each part of a selector as a condition:

condition { }

That translates to code like:

if (condition) { }

So if you have a CSS selector like this:

condition1 condition2 condition3 { }

…it translates to code like this:

if (condition1) {
    if (condition2) {
        if (condition3) {
        }
    }
}

That doesn’t feel very elegant, even in its simpler form:

if (condition1 && condition2 && condition3) { }

I like Harry’s rule of thumb:

Think of your selectors as mini programs: Every time you nest or qualify, you are adding an if statement; read these ifs out loud to yourself to try and keep your selectors sane.

Killer page load performance – Async

This Async event at 68 Middle Street on June 11th looks like it’s going to good (and relevant to my interests).

Used the Wayback Machine to restore wayward audio from @dConstruct 2006:

http://archive.dconstruct.org/2006

Thanks, @InternetArchive!

May 12th, 2014

Seams

You can listen to an audio version of Seams.

“The function of science fiction,” said Ray Bradbury, “is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.”

Dystopias are the default setting for science fiction. It’s rare to find utopian sci-fi, and when you do—as in the post-singularity Culture novels of Iain M.Banks—there’s always more than a germ of dystopia; the dystutopias that Margaret Atwood speaks of.

You’ve got your political dystopias—1984 and all its imitators. Then there’s alien invasion dystopias, machine-intelligence dystopias, and a whole slew of post-apocalyptic dystopias: nuclear war, pandemic disease, environmental collapse, genetic engineering …take your pick. From the cosy catastrophes of John Wyndham to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this is the stock and trade of speculative fiction.

Of all these undesirable futures, one that troubles more than any other is the Wall·E dystopia. I’m not talking about the environmental wasteland depicted on Earth. I mean the dystutopia depicted aboard the generation starship The Axiom. Here, humanity’s every need is catered to without requiring any thought. And so humanity atrophies, becoming physically obese and intellectually lazy.

It’s not a new idea. H. G. Wells had already shown us a distant future like this in his classic novel The Time Machine. In the far future of that book’s timeline, humanity splits into two. The savagery of the canabalistic Morlocks is contrasted with the docile passive stupidity of the Eloi, but as Jaron Lanier points out, both endpoints are equally horrific.

In Wall·E, the Eloi have advanced technology. Their technology has been designed according to a design principle enshrined in the title of a Dead Kennedys album: Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death.

That’s the reason why the Wall·E dystopia disturbs me so much. It’s all-too believable. For many years now, the rallying cry of digital designers has been epitomised by the title of Steve Krug’s terrific book, Don’t Make Me Think. But what happens when that rallying cry is taken too far? What happens when it stops being “don’t make think while I’m trying to complete a task” to simply “don’t make me think” full stop?

Convenience. Ease of use. Seamlessness.

On the face of it, these all seem like desirable traits in digital and physical products alike. But they come at a price. When we design, we try to do the work so that the user doesn’t have to. We do the thinking so the user doesn’t have to. Don’t make the user think. But taken too far, that mindset becomes dangerous.

Marshall McLuhan said that every extension is also an amputution. As we augment the abilities of people to accomplish their tasks, we should be careful not to needlessly curtail what they can do:

Here we are, a society hell bent on extending our reach through phones, through computers, through “seamless integration” and yet all along the way we’re unwittingly losing perhaps as much as we gain. The mediums we create are built to carry out specific tasks efficiently, but by doing so they have a tendency to restrict our options for accomplishing that task by other means. We begin to learn the “One” way to do it, when in fact there are infinite ways. The medium begins to restrict our thinking, our imagination, our potential.

The idea of “seamlessness” as a desirable trait in what we design is one that bothers me. Technology has seams. By hiding those seams, we may think we are helping the end user, but we are also making a conscience choice to deceive them (or at least restrict what they can do).

I see this a lot in the world of web devlopment. We’re constantly faced with challenges like dealing with users on slow networks or small screens. So we try to come up with solutions (bandwidth media queries, responsive images) that have at their heart an assumption that we know better than the end user what they should get.

I’m not saying that everything should be an option in a menu for the user to figure out—picking smart defaults is very much part of our job. But I do think there’s real value in giving the user the final choice.

I remember Jake giving a good example of this. If he’s travelling and he’s on a 3G network on his phone, or using shitty hotel WiFi on his laptop, and someone sends him a link to a video of some cats, he doesn’t mind if he gets the low-quality version as long as he gets to see the feline shenanigans in short order. But if he’s in the same situation and someone sends him a link to the just-released trailer for the new Star Trek movie, he’s willing to wait for hours so that he can watch in high-definition.

That’s a choice. All too often, these kind of choices are pre-made by designers and developers instead of being offered to the end user. We probably mean well, but there’s a real danger in assuming that just because someone is using a particular device that we can infer what their context is:

Mind reading is no way to base fundamental content decisions.

My point is that while we don’t want to overwhelm the user with choice overload, we also need to be careful not to unintentionally remove valuable choices that can empower people. In our quest to make experiences seamless, we run the risk of also making those experiences rigid and inflexible.

The drive for a “seamless experience” has been used to justify some harsh amputations. When Twitter declared war on the very developers it used to champion, and changed its API and terms of service so that tweets had to be displayed the same way everywhere, it was done in the name of “a consistent user experience.” Twitter knows best.

The web is made up of parts and there are seams between those parts: HTML, HTTP, and URLs. The software that can expose or hide those seams is the web browser. Web browsers are made by human beings and it’s the mindset and assumptions of those human beings that determines whether web browsers are enabling or disabling users to make use of those seams.

“View source” is a seam that exposes the HTML lying beneath every web page. That kind of X-ray vision can be quite powerful. Clearly it’s not an important feature for most users, but it is directly responsible for showing people how web pages are made …and intimating that anyone can do it. In the introduction to my first book I thanked “view source” along with my other teachers like Jeff Veen, Steve Champeon, and Jeffrey Zeldman.

These days, browsers don’t like to expose “view source” as easily as they once did. It’s hidden amongst the developer tools. There’s an assumption there that it’s not intended for regular users. The browser makers know best.

There are seams between the technologies that make up a web page: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The ability to enable or disable those layers can be empowering. It has become harder and harder to disable JavaScript in the browser. Another little amputation. The browser makers know best.

The CSS that styles web pages can be over-ridden by the end user. This is not a bug. It is a very powerful feature. That feature is being removed:

I understand that vendors can do whatever they want to control how you experience the web, because it is their software, their product, but removing user stylesheets feels sooo un-web to me, which is irony. A browser’s largest responsibility is to give people access to the web. It’s like the web is this open hand, but software is this closed fist.

Then there’s the URL. The ultimate seam.

Historically, browsers have exposed this seam, but now—just as with “view source” and user stylesheets—the visibility of the URL is being relegated to being a power-user tool.

The ultimate amputation.

The irony here is that the justification for this change is not the usual mantra of providing “a more seamless user experience.” Instead, the justification is supposedly security.

This strike me as really strange. Security is the one area where seamlessness is definitely not a desirable characteristic. A secure system requires people to be mindful and aware of their situation. This is certainly true on the web, as Tom points out:

Hiding information away makes me less able to make decisions: it makes me a less informed user.

The whole reason that phishing is a problem is because users don’t pay any bloody attention to what they see in their location bar. Putting less information in the location bar makes the location bar less useful and thus there’s less point paying any attention to it.

Tom has hit on the fundamental mismatch here. Chrome is a piece of software that wants to provide a good user experience—“don’t make me think!”—while at the same trying to make users mindful of their surroundings:

Security requires educated, pro-active, informed thinking users.

Usability is about making the whole process of using the web seamless and thoughtless: a child should be able to do it.

So from the security standpoint, obfuscating the URL is exactly the wrong thing to do.

In order to actually stay safe online, you need to see the “seams” of the web, you need to pay attention, use your brain.

Chrome knows best.

Making it harder to “view source” might seem like an inconsequentail decision. Removing the ability to apply user stylesheets might seem like an inconsequential decision. Heck, even hiding the URL might seem like an inconsequential decision. But each one of those decisions has repercussions. And each one of those decisions reflects an underlying viewpoint.

Make no mistake, all software is political. We talk about opinionated software but really, all software is opinionated, whether we like it or not. Seemingly inconsequential interface decisions are actually reflections of assumptions, biases and beliefs.

As Nat points out, like all political decisions, this is about power:

There’s been much debate about whether the URLs are ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’ and whether people really understand them. This debate misses the point.

The URLs are the cornerstone of the interconnected, decentralised web. Removing the URLs from the browser is an attempt to expand and consolidate centralised power.

If that’s the case, then it really doesn’t matter what we think about Chrome removing visible URLs. What appears to be a design decision about the user interface is in fact a manifestation of a much deeper vision. It’s a vision of a future where people can have everything their heart desires without having to expend needless thought. It’s a bright future filled with seamless experiences.

Welcome aboard The Axiom.

Buy n Large knows best.

May 12th, 2013

May 12th, 2011

Mobile Browser panel, fzijlstra on USTREAM. Conference

Here’s a video of the mobile browser panel I moderated at Mobilism in Amsterdam today. It gets fairly technical for a while but it was mostly a lot of fun.

May 12th, 2010

2010 Space Elevator Conference

I would really love to go to this. Our planet needs a space elevator.

May 12th, 2009

Near Future Laboratory » Blog Archive » Design Fiction: A Short Essay on Design, Science, Fact and Fiction

Download the PDF of this essay from the Near Future Laboratory and wallow in the sci-fi/tech/design goodness.

May 12th, 2005

End of the endeavour

My cruise around Alaska’s Inside Passage has come to an end. The Spirit Of Endeavour docked in Juneau and we disembarked this morning.

Yesterday was a full day; Skagway in the morning and Haines in the afternoon.

My helicopter trip in Skagway went very smoothly. There was no resurgence of the quesiness I felt in the floatplane in Petersburg. Then again, the floatplane had the soundtrack from Titanic pumped through the headphones. That would explain why I felt slightly ill.

The helicopter deposited a bunch of us on top of Denver Glacier, the location of a camp of sled dogs. Riding around on a sled is a much more primitive mode of transport than a helicopter but it was equally fun. Also, you don’t get to scratch behind the ears of your helicopter pilot.

After the excitement of the morning, Haines offered a nice relaxing counterpoint. It’s a very small town. I enjoyed just wandering around in the sunshine.

Today I’m adjusting to being back on dry land after ten days on a moving vessel. Right now, Juneau is bustling. Three gigantic cruise ships have docked in the harbour. The Endeavour looks like a lifeboat next to them. I’m extremely glad that I was on such a small and sparsely populated ship. I’m pretty sure that those big ships don’t alter their course just to follow whale spouts.

I’ll be heading back to Seattle tomorrow with a head full of memories. I’ve taken a lot of photographs. I even managed to shoot a short movie of bow-riding porpoise.

Being unfamiliar with the poetry of Robert Service, I’ve had some lines from Yeats going through my head:

"Come away, O human child!"

"To the waters and the wild"

"With a faery, hand in hand,"

"For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand."

BBC Backstage

The BBC is going to be offering an API. Hallelujah!

May 12th, 2003

And again.

May 12th, 2002

Web services, Weblogs and Wired

Here’s an excellent article in The Guardian by all-round good guy, Ben Hammersley all about web services.

John Dowdell concurs.

John Dowdell is one of those Macromedia employees who are now blogging. This was reported recently in Wired. The Wired article states:

"Macromedia asks only that its bloggers keep their postings relevant — no blogging about what they ate for breakfast, in other words."

Well, I’ve got one up on everyone else then. I happen to know some non-Flash related things about John Dowdell. I know for a fact that he, like me, plays Irish traditional music.

Two of the discussion lists I’m subscribed to are about web design and one is about Irish traditional music. At some stage I noticed that there was only one other individual subscribed to all three lists: John Dowdell.

So, to me, he’s not just some faceless Macromedia employee. He’s a concertina playing faceless Macromedia employee.