Archive: May, 2018

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Thursday, May 31st, 2018

The Cult of the Complex · An A List Apart Article

I know that Jeffrey and I sound like old men yelling at kids to get off the lawn when we bemoan the fetishisation of complex tools and build processes, but Jeffrey gets to the heart of it here: it’s about appropriateness.

As a designer who used to love creating web experiences in code, I am baffled and numbed by the growing preference for complexity over simplicity. Complexity is good for convincing people they could not possibly do your job. Simplicity is good for everything else.

And not to sound like a broken record, but once again I’m reminded of the rule of least power.

Know your ARIA: ‘Hidden’ vs ‘None’ | scottohara.me

When to use aria-hidden="true", and when you might need display: none:

aria-hidden by itself is not enough to completely hide an element from all users, if that is the end goal.

When to use role="presentation" (or role="none"):

Where aria-hidden can be used to completely hide content from assistive technology, modifying an element’s role to “none” or “presentation” removes the semantics of the element, but does not hide the content from assistive technologies.

UTC is Enough for Everyone, Right?

A wonderful—and humorous—deep dive into all things time-related.

Building a calendar sucks. Like there’s really cool shit you can do, since every calendar out there today is basically straight outta 2005, but at the end of the day you’re stuck dealing with all of the edge cases that all your dork friends have warned you about since the dawn of time. (Like literally, the dawn of time is a separate edge case you have to account for as well.)

This also contains a well-deserved shout-out to ISO 8601:

ISO 8601 is one of my favorite standards and/or RFC out there. And yes, you should definitely have a favorite.

I do have a favourite RFC—ask me about it sometime over a beer.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Solving Life’s Problems with CSS | CSS-Tricks

It turns out that Diana Smith isn’t just a genius with CSS—she’s a fantastic writer too. This post is somehow heartfelt and lighthearted at the same time. It’s also very humorous, but beneath the humour there’s an excellent point here about the rule of least power …and doing things the long, hard, stupid way.

Because something about those limitations just calls to me. I know I’m not alone when I say that a rigid set of restrictions is the best catalyst for creativity. Total artistic freedom can be a paralyzing concept.

That can sometimes be the case with programming. If you have the most powerful programming languages in the world at your disposal, it starts to seem natural that you should then have no difficulty solving any programming problem. With all these amazing tools offering countless solutions to solve the same problem, it’s no wonder that we sometimes freeze up with information overload.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

We are all trapped in the “Feed” – Om on Tech

No matter where I go on the Internet, I feel like I am trapped in the “feed,” held down by algorithms that are like axes trying to make bespoke shirts out of silk. And no one illustrates it better than Facebook and Twitter, two more services that should know better, but they don’t. Fake news, unintelligent information and radically dumb statements are getting more attention than what matters. The likes, retweets, re-posts are nothing more than steroids for noise. Even when you are sarcastic in your retweets or re-shares, the system has the understanding of a one-year-old monkey baby: it is a vote on popularity.

The Amish understand a life-changing truth about technology the rest of us don’t — Quartz

The headline is terrible but this interview is an insightful look at evaluating technology.

I remember Kevin Kelly referring to the Amish as “slow geeks”, and remarking that we could all become a little more amish-ish.

It’s not that the Amish view technology as inherently evil. No rules prohibit them from using new inventions. But they carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it. And the best clue as to what will happen comes from watching their neighbors.

Getting Started With CSS Layout — Smashing Magazine

Rachel gives a terrific explanation of CSS layout from first principles, starting with the default normal flow within writing systems, moving on to floats, then positioning—relative, absolute, fixed, and sticky—then flexbox, and finally grid (with a coda on alignment). This is a great primer to keep bookmarked; I think I’ll find myself returning to this more than once.

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

What you’re proud of

I wish there was a place where I could read the story of a person. Everybody’s journey is so different and beautiful; each one leads to who we are. It would be the anti-LinkedIn. And because you wouldn’t “engage with brands”, it would be the anti-Facebook, too. Instead, it would be a record of the beauty and diversity of humanity, and a thing to point to when someone asks, “who are you?”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

The Tarot Cards Of Tech

A useful set of questions to ask on any project, shuffled and dealt to you.

They’ll not only help you foresee unintended consequences—they can also reveal opportunities for positive change.

All of the content in images. Not a single image has alternative text. If only they had asked themselves:

When you picture your user base, who is excluded? If they used your product, what would their experience be like?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Easy Toggle State

I think about 90% of the JavaScript I’ve ever written was some DOM scripting to handle the situation of “when the user triggers an event on this element, do something to this other element.” Toggles, lightboxes, accordions, tabs, tooltips …they’re all basically following the same underlying pattern. So it makes sense to me to see this pattern abstracted into a little library.

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future

It is common to refer to universally popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest as “walled gardens.” But they are not gardens; they are walled industrial sites, within which users, for no financial compensation, produce data which the owners of the factories sift and then sell. Some of these factories (Twitter, Tumblr, and more recently Instagram) have transparent walls, by which I mean that you need an account to post anything but can view what has been posted on the open Web; others (Facebook, Snapchat) keep their walls mostly or wholly opaque. But they all exercise the same disciplinary control over those who create or share content on their domain.

Professor Alan Jacobs makes the case for the indie web:

We need to revivify the open Web and teach others—especially those who have never known the open Web—to learn to live extramurally: outside the walls.

What do I mean by “the open Web”? I mean the World Wide Web as created by Tim Berners-Lee and extended by later coders. The open Web is effectively a set of protocols that allows the creating, sharing, and experiencing of text, sounds, and images on any computer that is connected to the Internet and has installed on it a browser that can interpret information encoded in conformity with these protocols.

This resonated strongly with me:

To teach children how to own their own domains and make their own websites might seem a small thing. In many cases it will be a small thing. Yet it serves as a reminder that the online world does not merely exist, but is built, and built to meet the desires of certain very powerful people—but could be built differently.

Identifying, Auditing, and Discussing Third Parties – CSS Wizardry

Harry describes the process he uses for auditing the effects of third-party scripts. He uses the excellent Request Map which was mentioned multiple times at the Delta V conference.

The focus here is on performance, but these tools are equally useful for shining a light on just how bad the situation is with online surveillance and tracking.

I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore

I started a Twitter account, and fell into a world of good, dumb, weird jokes, links to new sites and interesting ideas. It was such an excellent place to waste time that I almost didn’t notice that the blogs and link-sharing sites I’d once spent hours on had become less and less viable. Where once we’d had a rich ecosystem of extremely stupid and funny sites on which we might procrastinate, we now had only Twitter and Facebook.

And then, one day, I think in 2013, Twitter and Facebook were not really very fun anymore. And worse, the fun things they had supplanted were never coming back. Forums were depopulated; blogs were shut down. Twitter, one agent of their death, became completely worthless: a water-drop-torture feed of performative outrage, self-promotion, and discussion of Twitter itself. Facebook had become, well … you’ve been on Facebook.

Google Duplex and the canny rise: a UX pattern – UX Collective

Chris weighs up the ethical implications of Google Duplex:

The social hacking that could be accomplished is mind-boggling. For this reason, I expect that having human-sounding narrow AI will be illegal someday. The Duplex demo is a moment of cultural clarity, where it first dawned on us that we can do it, but with only a few exceptions, we shouldn’t.

But he also offers alternatives for designing systems like this:

  1. Provide disclosure, and
  2. Design a hot signal:

…design the interface so that it is unmistakeable that it is synthetic. This way, even if the listener missed or misunderstood the disclosure, there is an ongoing signal that reinforces the idea. As designer Ben Sauer puts it, make it “Humane, not human.”

Pi-hole®: A black hole for Internet advertisements

This looks like a terrific use of a Raspberry Pi—blocking adtech surveillance at the network level.

Wouldn’t it be great if the clichéd going-home-for-Christmas/Thanksgiving to fix the printer/wifi included setting up one of these?

There’s an article about Pi-hole in Business Week where the creators offer some advice for those who equate any kind of online advertising with ubiquitous surveillance:

For publishers struggling to survive even with maximum ad surveillance, the Pi-hole team recommends a renewed focus on subscriptions, affiliate links, and curated endorsements for products and services that might truly interest users, similar to the way podcast hosts may talk about how much they personally enjoy a sponsor’s products. There’s nothing wrong with pitching people stuff they might enjoy, the team says. It’s just the constant, ever-intensifying surveillance that needs to stop.

Design systems and technological disruption – The Man in Blue

Almost every technological innovation over the last 300 years has had side effects which actually increase the number of opportunities for employment. The general trend is that the easier something is to do, the more demand there is for it.

Cameron looks at the historical effects of automation and applies that to design systems. The future he sees is one of increased design democratisation and participation.

This is actually something that designers have been championing for decades – inclusive design at all levels of the company, and an increase in design thinking at all stages of product development. Now that we finally have a chance of achieving that it’s not a time to be scared. It’s a time to be celebrated.

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

Acephalic Agile—worse than Waterfall? - Oliver Wyman Labs: Technical

Agile itself provides us with the ability and opportunity to correct course, it allows us to steer, but it does nothing as such to help us steer correctly.

This observation about (some) agile projects is worryingly familiar:

I was suddenly seized by a horrible thought: what if this new-found agility was used, not teleologically to approach the right outcome over the course of a project, but simply to enshrine the right of middle management to change their minds, to provide a methodological license for arbitrary management? At least under a Waterfall regime they had to apologise when they departed from the plan. With Agile they are allowed, in principle, to make as many changes of direction as they like. But what if Agile was used merely as a license to justify keeping the team in the office night after night in a never-ending saga of rapidly accumulating requirements and dizzying changes of direction? And what if the talk of developer ‘agility’ was just a way of softening up developers for a life of methodologically sanctioned pliability? In short, what if Agile turned out to be worse than Waterfall?

The Slow Death of Internet Explorer and the Future of Progressive Enhancement · An A List Apart Article

Oliver Williams makes the case—and shows the code—for delivering only HTML to old versions of Internet Explorer, sparing them from the kind of CSS and JavaScript that they can’t deal with it. Seems like a sensible approach to me (assuming you’re correctly building in a layered way so that your core content is delivered in markup).

Rather than transpiling and polyfilling and hoping for the best, we can deliver what the person came for, in the most resilient, performant, and robust form possible: unadulterated HTML. No company has the resources to actively test their site on every old version of every browser. Malfunctioning JavaScript can ruin a web experience and make a simple page unusable. Rather than leaving users to a mass of polyfills and potential JavaScript errors, we give them a basic but functional experience.

Super-powered layouts with CSS Variables + CSS Grid by Michelle Barker on CodePen

This article is about using custom properties and CSS grid together, but I think my favourite part is this description of how custom properties differ from the kind of variables you get from a preprocessor:

If you’re familiar with Javascript, I like to think of the difference between preprocessor variables and CSS Variables as similar to the difference between const and let - they both serve different purposes.

Building and maintaining a design system | susan jean robertson

Susan writes about the challenges when trying to get widespread adoption of a design system. Spoiler: the challenges aren’t technical.

Change is hard. Communication and collaboration are absolutely necessary to make a system work. And the more people you can get involved from various disciplines the better chance you have of maintaining your system.

Friday, May 18th, 2018

What History’s Female Internet Pioneers can Teach us about Tomorrow on Vimeo

The terrific talk from Beyond Tellerrand by Claire L. Evans, author of Broad Band.

As we face issues of privacy, identity, and society in a networked world, we have much to learn from these women, who anticipated the Internet’s greatest problems, faced them, and discovered solutions we can still use today.

Broad Band – What History’s Female Internet Pioneers can Teach us about Tomorrow - Claire L. Evans - btconfDUS2018

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

I Played Fortnite and Figured Out the Universe - The Atlantic

Robin Sloan smushes the video game Fortnite Battle Royale together with Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem trilogy and produces a perfect example of game theory, cooperation, and the prisoner’s dilemma.

Based on my experiments in the laboratory of Fortnite, I think Liu Cixin is wrong. Or at least, he’s not entirely right. Fortnite is more Dark Forest theory than not, and maybe that’s true of the universe, too. But sometimes, we have a lever against the vise of game theory, and in this case, it is a single bit of communication. I mean “bit” in the programmer’s sense: a flag with a designated meaning. Nothing more. My heart emote didn’t make Fortnite cuddly and collaborative, but it did allow me to communicate: “Hold up. Let’s do this a different way.”

New Privacy Rules Could Make This Woman One of Tech’s Most Important Regulators - The New York Times

It’s kind of surreal to see a profile in the New York Times of my sister-in-law. Then again, she is Ireland’s data protection commissioner, and what with Facebook, Twitter, and Google all being based in Ireland, and with GDPR looming, her work is more important than ever.

By the way, this article has 26 tracking scripts. I don’t recall providing consent for any of them.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Monday, May 14th, 2018

Saturday, 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.

Friday, May 11th, 2018

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

A Book Apart, Get to Know Jeremy Keith

My publishers asked me some questions. My answers turned out to be more revealing of my inner demons than I was expecting. I hope this isn’t too much oversharing, but I found it quite cathartic.

My greatest fear for the web is that it becomes the domain of an elite priesthood of developers. I firmly believe that, as Tim Berners-Lee put it, “this is for everyone.” And I don’t just mean it’s for everyone to use—I believe it’s for everyone to make as well. That’s why I get very worried by anything that raises the barrier to entry to web design and web development.

It’s ironic that, at the same time as we can do so much more with less when it comes to the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in browsers, many developers are choosing to make things more complicated by introducing complex tool chains, frameworks and processes.

Coding with kids

James shares his experience of teaching a class of 9 and 10 year old children how to code, and offers some advice:

  • Don’t dumb it down
  • Use real-world examples
  • Make it hands on
  • Set clear expectations
  • Award certificates and/or stickers

As members of the web community we have a responsibility to share what we have learned. I can’t think of a better way of doing that then helping kids get started.

Hear, hear!

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Monday, May 7th, 2018

Pair Programming

Amber gave a lightning talk about pair programming at the Beyond Tellerrand Düsseldorf side event. Here is the transcript of that presentation.

The fact that everyone has different personalities, means pairing with others shouldn’t be forced upon anyone, and even if people do pair, there is no set time limit or a set way to do so.

So, there’s no roadmap. There’s no step-by-step guide in a readme file to successfully install pair programming

What does sponsorship look like? | Lara Hogan

It’s upsetting to realize that the reason why you’re in a senior position may be because of the system of privilege that got you there. It’s upsetting to realize that there are people who aren’t in that rank who are more qualified than you, but who haven’t benefited from the same privilege you did.

It me.

So here’s what I can do about it:

  • Start sponsoring members of underrepresented groups
  • Listen to marginalized people, and believe them
  • Do “the homework” to be a better mentor

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

HTML5 Constraint Validation

The slides from a presentation by Drew on all the functionality that browsers give us for free when it comes to validating form inputs.

Half the battle of the web platform is knowing what technology is out there, ready to use. We’re all familiar with the ability to declare validation constraints in our HTML5 forms, but were you aware there’s a JavaScript API that goes along with it?

Friday, May 4th, 2018

Webstock ‘18: Jeremy Keith - Taking Back The Web on Vimeo

Here’s the talk I gave at Webstock earlier this year all about the indie web:

In these times of centralised services like Facebook, Twitter, and Medium, having your own website is downright disruptive. If you care about the longevity of your online presence, independent publishing is the way to go. But how can you get all the benefits of those third-party services while still owning your own data? By using the building blocks of the Indie Web, that’s how!

Webstock '18: Jeremy Keith - Taking Back The Web

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Why Silicon Valley can’t fix itself

Backlash backlash:

The nature of human nature is that it changes. It can not, therefore, serve as a stable basis for evaluating the impact of technology. Yet the assumption that it doesn’t change serves a useful purpose. Treating human nature as something static, pure and essential elevates the speaker into a position of power. Claiming to tell us who we are, they tell us how we should be.

Orion Magazine | State of the Species

A great piece from Charles C. Mann from five years ago, where you can see the genesis of The Wizard And The Prophet.

For hundreds of thousands of years, our species had been restricted to East Africa (and, possibly, a similar area in the south). Now, abruptly, new-model Homo sapiens were racing across the continents like so many imported fire ants. The difference between humans and fire ants is that fire ants specialize in disturbed habitats. Humans, too, specialize in disturbed habitats—but we do the disturbing.

Building Progressive Web Apps | nearForm

It is very disheartening to read misinformation like this:

A progressive web app is an enhanced version of a Single Page App (SPA) with a native app feel.

To quote from The Last Jedi, “Impressive. Everything you just said in that sentence is wrong.”

But once you get over that bit of misinformation at the start, the rest of this article is a good run-down of planning and building a progressive web app using one possible architectural choice—the app shell model. Other choices are available.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

So long, and thanks for all the beer. – Ben Sauer

Ben is moving on from Clearleft. I’m going to miss him. I found this summation of his time here very moving.

Working at Clearleft was one of the best decisions I ever made. 6 years of some work that I’m most proud of, amongst some of the finest thinkers I’ve ever met.

He also outlines the lessons he learned here:

  • Writing and speaking will make you a better thinker and designer.
  • Autonomy rules.
  • Own stuff.
  • Aim high.

Should you ever choose to work with, or work for Clearleft, I hope these words will give you some encouragement — it is an exceptional place to be.

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018