Tags: 24ways

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Fractal ways

24 Ways is back! That’s how we web nerds know that the Christmas season is here. It kicked off this year with a most excellent bit of hardware hacking from Seb: Internet of Stranger Things.

The site is looking lovely as always. There’s also a component library to to accompany it: Bits, the front-end component library for 24 ways. Nice work, courtesy of Paul. (I particularly like the comment component example).

The component library is built with Fractal, the magnificent tool that Mark has open-sourced. We’ve been using at Clearleft for a while now, but we haven’t had a chance to make any of the component libraries public so it’s really great to be able to point to the 24 Ways example. The code is all on Github too.

There’s a really good buzz around Fractal right now. Lots of people in the design systems Slack channel are talking about it. There’s also a dedicated Fractal Slack channel for people getting into the nitty-gritty of using the tool.

If you’re currently wrestling with the challenges of putting a front-end component library together, be sure to give Fractal a whirl.

Clean conditional loading

It’s December. That means it’s time for the geek advent calendars to get revved up again:

For every day until Christmas Eve, you can find a tasty geek treat on each of those sites.

Today’s offering on 24 Ways is a little something I wrote called Conditional Loading for Responsive Designs. It expands on the technique I’m using on Huffduffer to conditionally load inessential content into a sidebar with Ajax where the layout is wide enough to accommodate it:

if (document.documentElement.clientWidth > 640) {
// Use Ajax to retrieve content here.
}

In that example, the Ajax only kicks in if the viewport is wider than 640 pixels. Assuming I’ve got a media query that also kicks in at 640 pixels, everything is hunky-dory.

But …it doesn’t feel very to have that 640 pixel number repeated in two places: once in the CSS and again in the JavaScript. It feels particularly icky if I’m using ems for my media query breakpoints (as I often do) while using pixels in JavaScript.

At my recent responsive enhancement workshop in Düsseldorf, Andreas Nebiker pointed out an elegant solution: instead of testing the width of the viewport in JavaScript, why not check for a style change that would have been executed within a media query instead?

So, say for example I’ve got some CSS like this:

@media all and (min-width: 640px) {
    [role="complementary"] {
        width: 30%;
        float: right;
    }
}

Then in my JavaScript I could test to see if that element has the wide-screen layout or not:

var sidebar = document.querySelector('[role="complementary"]'),
floating = window.getComputedStyle(sidebar,null).getPropertyValue('float');
if (floating == 'right') {
// Use Ajax to retrieve content here.
}

Or something like that. The breakpoint is only ever specified once so I ever change it from 640 pixels to something else (like 40 ems) then I only have to make that change in one place. Feel free to grab the example and play around with it.

By the way, you’ll notice that in the original 24 Ways article and also in this updated example, I’m only testing the layout on page load, not on page resize. It would be fairly easy to add in an onResize test as well, but I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that—apart from the legitimate case of orientation change on tablets—the only people resizing their browser windows after the page loads are web designers testing responsive designs. Still, it would be nice to get some more data to test that hypothesis.

The future of the tradition

Drew and Brian did a superb job with this year’s 24 Ways, the advent calendar for geeks. There were some recurring themes: HTML5 from Yaili, Bruce and myself; CSS3 from Drew, Natalie and Rachel; and workflow from Andy and Meagan.

The matter of personal projects was also surprisingly prevalent. Elliot wrote A Pet Project is For Life, Not Just for Christmas and Jina specifically mentioned Huffduffer in her piece, Make Out Like a Bandit. December was the month for praising personal projects: that’s exactly what I was talking about at Refresh Belfast at the start of the month.

If you don’t have a personal project on the go, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way of learning new skills and experimenting with new technology. It’s also a good safety valve that can keep you sane when work is getting you down.

Working on Huffduffer is a lot of fun and I plan to keep iterating on the site whenever I can. But the project that I’ve really invested my soul into is The Session. Over the past decade, the site has built up a large international community with a comprehensive store of tunes and sessions.

Running any community site requires a lot of time and I haven’t always been as hands-on as I could have been with The Session. As a result, the discourse can occasionally spiral downwards into nastiness, prompting me to ask myself, Why do I bother? But then when someone contributes something wonderful to the site, I’m reminded of why I started it in the first place.

My dedication to the site was crystallised recently by a sad event. A long-time contributor to the site passed away. Looking back over the generosity of his contributions made me realise that The Session isn’t a personal project at all: it’s a community project, and I have a duty to enable the people in the community to connect. I also have a duty to maintain the URLs created by the community (are you listening, Yahoo?).

I feel like I’ve been neglecting the site. I could be doing so much more with the collective data, especially around location. The underlying code definitely needs refactoring, and the visual design could certainly do with a refresh (although I think it’s held up pretty well for such a long-running site).

I’m not going to make a new year’s resolution—that would just give me another deadline to stress out about—but I’m making a personal commitment to do whatever I can for The Session in 2010.

Feedback loopy

24 Ways is back again this year. Today’s article is a little something I penned called The IE6 Equation. Share and enjoy!

The design of 24 Ways has been refreshed for this festive season and it has prompted quite a varied reaction. That’s always a good sign. You might love it or you might hate it but you’re probably not ambivalent about it. Veerle has written more on this subject, provocatively asking Do you innovate or opt for the safe route in web design?

The implementation prompted as much feedback as the design itself. Clearly, 24 Ways is a site with an immovable deadline. It’s an advent calendar so it must go live on December 1st. This year, that meant that some cross-browser issues weren’t sorted out on the first day. A few days after the site launched, everything was hunky-dory but in the interim, there was a clamour of epic fail! from indignant visitors to the site. I’m finding that Andy’s thoughts on this term of derision has become the canonical document to point people to for a healthy dose of perspective.

Merlin Mann’s observation, delivered in fewer than 140 characters, deserves to be framed and mounted next to every input device:

Some days, the web feels like 5 people trying to make something; 5k people turning it into a list; and 500MM people saying, “FAIL.”

If you’ve ever created anything on the web—a story, a picture, a video or an application—then you’ll be familiar with the range of responses that will result. I don’t just mean the laughably mindless babblings of the Diggtards and Reddidiots; I’m referring to that peculiar effect that sitting behind a monitor has on otherwise level-headed well-adjusted people. In the same way that some people undergo a Jekyll and Hyde transformation behind the wheel of a car, computer keyboards have a tendency to bring out the fuckwad in many of us—I include myself amongst that group.

The upshot of this effect is that criticism tends to be harsher online than if it were delivered in real life, which might just be due to the lack of . Should you find yourself on the receiving end of some criticism, having built a labour of love, I’ve put together a hierarchy of verb tenses by which you can weigh the feedback you’re receiving:

  1. Past. Advice from someone who has also built something is valuable. Their opinion is informed by experimental data.
  2. Present. If someone else is also building something, it’s worth paying attention to what they have to say.
  3. Conditional. This is the bottom of the pile. If someone describes what they “would” have done or what you “should” have done, it isn’t worth wasting your retinas on the photons of that feedback.

Although this hierarchy of verb tenses was prompted by web-native creations, it probably works equally well for film-making, plumbing, literature, dentistry, music, or just about any endeavour of the human spirit.

Dripping

I don’t often get the chance to listen to many podcasts but when I do, there are a few that I have waiting in my iPod:

A recent addition to the podcast parade comes courtesy of Messrs. Hicks and Oxton. Broadcasting from their RAF base, they produce The Rissington PodcastGardener’s Question Time for the Web. The podcast also sports a brand new website that positively drips with delight. Go ahead and resize the browser window… admire that header, gasp at that footer.

See, this one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of liquid layouts. Not only do they feel inherently more “webby”, more in-tune with the medium, they also offer more capacity to delight. I know they’re harder to build. Fixed width layouts are certainly the easier option. But just as safe design won’t ever offend or excite, safe layouts won’t have quite the same propensity for delivering that warm glow of satisfaction that comes with having a website flow to fit the dimensions of your browser window. See also: Unstoppable Robot Ninja. Gorgeous.

But back to podcasts… I’m almost done with the dConstruct 2007 podcast—just one more talk left to put up. The presentations were ably recorded on the day by Drew. Speaking of whom, it’s that time of the year again: 24 Ways is back. Drew opens up the first window on the advent calendar with a piece on transparent PNGs in IE6. Expect another 23 high-quality articles to follow.