An account of the mother of all demos, written by Steven Johnson.
I have days were I can write a well researched blog post in a few hours. And I have days were I don’t feel like writing. Or I want to add one more thing but don’t know how to speak my mind. So this is a reminder to myself: just hit publish.
The design process in action in Victorian England:
Recognizing that few people actually read statistical tables, Nightingale and her team designed graphics to attract attention and engage readers in ways that other media could not. Their diagram designs evolved over two batches of publications, giving them opportunities to react to the efforts of other parties also jockeying for influence. These competitors buried stuffy graphic analysis inside thick books. In contrast, Nightingale packaged her charts in attractive slim folios, integrating diagrams with witty prose. Her charts were accessible and punchy. Instead of building complex arguments that required heavy work from the audience, she focused her narrative lens on specific claims. It was more than data visualization—it was data storytelling.
This is a story about pizza and geometry.
The interactive widget here really demonstrates the difference between showing and telling.
So to me, this blog represents the original promise of the open web.
The one that’s here, and still is here, and always has been here, and is available to you.
The one where you can speak the truths that you believe without the permission, or the editorial control, or the power dynamics, of anyone claiming to hold authority over you; or, perhaps, anyone keen to impose it.
Heather takes a break from her relentless crusading in favour of users against the idiocy of the UK government and reflects on the joy of doing it all from her own personal website.
And perhaps you should too, on your own blog, owned on your own hosting space, using your own words, and speaking your own truth. That sounds like a good little weekend project, don’t you think?
A fascinating account of the history of JAWS and NVDA.
Steven Johnson profiles Lou Montulli, creator of the cookie, and ponders unintended consequences:
Years ago, the mathematician Edward Lorenz proposed a metaphor to describe how very small elements in a system’s initial conditions can lead to momentous changes over time. Imagining a tornado that ultimately emerges out of the tiny air perturbations caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, Lorenz called it the “butterfly effect.” For better and for worse, Montulli’s cookie may be the most pronounced example of a technological butterfly effect in our time. But instead of a butterfly flapping its wings, it’s a 23-year-old programmer writing a few lines of code to make a shopping cart feature work. Almost three decades later, we’re still riding out the storm that code helped create.
The history of humanity in food and recipes.
The timeline of this website is equally impressive—it’s been going since 1999!
The problem I’ve regularly encountered in my work is that I don’t get to do my job the way I think is best for both me and my employer or client. The employer, who isn’t the web development expert, almost always has a clear idea of what real web development is supposed to look like: Single-Page-Apps and React (or React-like frameworks).
An intimation that it wouldn’t be the right solution for this particular problem is taken as an admission of incompetence.
I’ve experienced this. And I think this observation is even more true when it comes to recruitment.
We have been seduced by Harari because of the power not of his truth or scholarship but of his storytelling. As a scientist, I know how difficult it is to spin complex issues into appealing and accurate storytelling. I also know when science is being sacrificed to sensationalism. Yuval Harari is what I call a “science populist.” (Canadian clinical psychologist and YouTube guru Jordan Peterson is another example.) Science populists are gifted storytellers who weave sensationalist yarns around scientific “facts” in simple, emotionally persuasive language. Their narratives are largely scrubbed clean of nuance or doubt, giving them a false air of authority—and making their message even more convincing. Like their political counterparts, science populists are sources of misinformation. They promote false crises, while presenting themselves as having the answers. They understand the seduction of a story well told—relentlessly seeking to expand their audience—never mind that the underlying science is warped in the pursuit of fame and influence.
Harari has seduced us with his storytelling, but a close look at his record shows that he sacrifices science to sensationalism, often makes grave factual errors, and portrays what should be speculative as certain.
Everything old is new again:
In our current “information age,” or so the story goes, we suffer in new and unique ways.
But the idea that modern life, and particularly modern technology, harms as well as helps, is deeply embedded in Western culture: In fact, the Victorians diagnosed very similar problems in their own society.
Some thoughts—and kind words—prompted by my recent talk, In And Out Of Style.
- Each voice is individual and matters
- Slow is ok
- Diversified and independent is good
- Not fitting a pattern is ok
- Not being easily commodified is ok
Here’s the video of my opening talk at this year’s CSS Day, which I thoroughly enjoyed!
It’s an exciting time for CSS! It feels like new features are being added every day. And yet, through it all, CSS has managed to remain an accessible language for anyone making websites. Is this an inevitable part of the design of CSS? Or has CSS been formed by chance? Let’s take a look at the history—and some alternative histories—of the World Wide Web to better understand where we are today. And then, let’s cast our gaze to the future!
Miriam has a wishlist for scaling up the indie web approach:
What I would like to see is a tool that helps bring the entire system together in one place. Somewhere that non-technical people can:
- build their own site, with support for feeds/mentions
- see what feeds are available on other sites, and subscribe to them
- easily respond to other sites, and see the resulting threads
(Oh, and by linking to this post, this should show up as a bookmark—I’m also testing Miriam’s webmention setup.)
A century of sci-fi book covers.
The web was born to distribute information on computers, but the technology industry can never leave well enough alone. It needs to make everything into software. To the point that your internet browser is basically no longer a magical book of links but a virtual machine that can simulate a full-fledged computer.
How a writing system went from being a dream (literally) to a reality, codified in unicode.