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Monday, August 10th, 2020

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Hanging out with the cat.

I don’t have a cat.

The cat doesn’t know that.

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Whoever is plastering educational posters around the neighbourhood …I approve!

(Previous specimens included the periodic table and a solar system chart.)

Influence

Hidde gave a great talk recently called On the origin of cascades (by means of natural selectors):

It’s been 25 years since the first people proposed a language to style the web. Since the late nineties, CSS lived through years of platform evolution.

It’s a lovely history lesson that reminded me of that great post by Zach Bloom a while back called The Languages Which Almost Became CSS.

The TL;DR timeline of CSS goes something like this:

Håkon and Bert joined forces and that’s what led to the Cascading Style Sheet language we use today.

Hidde looks at how the concept of the cascade evolved from those early days. But there’s another idea in Håkon’s proposal that fascinates me:

While the author (or publisher) often wants to give the documents a distinct look and feel, the user will set preferences to make all documents appear more similar. Designing a style sheet notation that fill both groups’ needs is a challenge.

The proposed solution is referred to as “influence”.

The user supplies the initial sheet which may request total control of the presentation, but — more likely — hands most of the influence over to the style sheets referenced in the incoming document.

So an author could try demanding that their lovely styles are to be implemented without question by specifying an influence of 100%. The proposed syntax looked like this:

h1.font.size = 24pt 100%

More reasonably, the author could specify, say, 40% influence:

h2.font.size = 20pt 40%

Here, the requested influence is reduced to 40%. If a style sheet later in the cascade also requests influence over h2.font.size, up to 60% can be granted. When the document is rendered, a weighted average of the two requests is calculated, and the final font size is determined.

Okay, that sounds pretty convoluted but then again, so is specificity.

This idea of influence in CSS reminds me of Cap’s post about The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck:

Hold on a second. I’m like a two-out-of-ten on this. How strongly do you feel?

I’m probably a six-out-of-ten, I replied after a couple moments of consideration.

Cool, then let’s do it your way.

In the end, the concept of influence in CSS died out, but user style sheets survived …for a while. Now they too are as dead as a dodo. Most people today aren’t aware that browsers used to provide a mechanism for applying your own visual preferences for browsing the web (kind of like Neopets or MySpace but for literally every single web page …just think of how empowering that was!).

Even if you don’t mourn the death of user style sheets—you can dismiss them as a power-user feature—I think it’s such a shame that the concept of shared influence has fallen by the wayside. Web design today is dictatorial. Designers and developers issue their ultimata in the form of CSS, even though technically every line of CSS you write is a suggestion to a web browser—not a demand.

I wish that web design were more of a two-way street, more of a conversation between designer and end user.

There are occassional glimpses of this mindset. Like I said when I added a dark mode to my website:

Y’know, when I first heard about Apple adding dark mode to their OS—and also to CSS—I thought, “Oh, great, Apple are making shit up again!” But then I realised that, like user style sheets, this is one more reminder to designers and developers that they don’t get the last word—users do.

I can’t wait to see @IreAderinokun’s talk at An Event Apart next Monday, August 17th! https://aneventapart.com/event/online-0820 I get to sneak in for free ’cause I’m speaking, but you can get a $50 discount with the code AEAJER.

I can’t wait to see @IreAderinokun’s talk at An Event Apart next Monday, August 17th!

https://aneventapart.com/event/online-0820

I get to sneak in for free ’cause I’m speaking, but you can get a $50 discount with the code AEAJER.

Sunday, August 9th, 2020

Playing Dusty Windowsills (jig) by John Harling on bouzouki:

https://thesession.org/tunes/29

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gNhfT7iVE4

Dream speak

I had a double-whammy of a stress dream during the week.

I dreamt I was at a conference where I was supposed to be speaking, but I wasn’t prepared, and I wasn’t where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there. Worse, my band were supposed to be playing a gig on the other side of town at the same time. Not only was I panicking about getting myself and my musical equipment to the venue on time, I was also freaking out because I couldn’t remember any of the songs.

You don’t have to be Sigmund freaking Freud to figure out the meanings behind these kinds of dreams. But usually these kind of stress dreams are triggered by some upcoming event like, say, oh, I don’t know, speaking at a conference or playing a gig.

I felt really resentful when I woke up from this dream in a panic in the middle of the night. Instead of being a topical nightmare, I basically had the equivalent of one of those dreams where you’re back at school and it’s the day of the exam and you haven’t prepared. But! When, as an adult, you awake from that dream, you have that glorious moment of remembering “Wait! I’m not in school anymore! Hallelujah!” Whereas with my double-booked stress dream, I got all the stress of the nightmare, plus the waking realisation that “Ah, shit. There are no more conferences. Or gigs.”

I miss them.

Mind you, there is talk of re-entering the practice room at some point in the near future. Playing gigs is still a long way off, but at least I could play music with other people.

Actually, I got to play music with other people this weekend. The music wasn’t Salter Cane, it was traditional Irish music. We gathered in a park, and played together while still keeping our distance. Jessica has written about it in her latest journal entry:

It wasn’t quite a session, but it was the next best thing, and it was certainly the best we’re going to get for some time. And next week, weather permitting, we’ll go back and do it again. The cautious return of something vaguely resembling “normality”, buoying us through the hot days of a very strange summer.

No chance of travelling to speak at a conference though. On the plus side, my carbon footprint has never been lighter.

Online conferences continue. They’re not the same, but they can still be really worthwhile in their own way.

I’ll be speaking at An Event Apart: Front-end Focus on Monday, August 17th (and I’m very excited to see Ire’s talk). I’ll be banging on about design principles for the web:

Designing and developing on the web can feel like a never-ending crusade against the unknown. Design principles are one way of unifying your team to better fight this battle. But as well as the design principles specific to your product or service, there are core principles underpinning the very fabric of the World Wide Web itself. Together, we’ll dive into applying these design principles to build websites that are resilient, performant, accessible, and beautiful.

Tickets are $350 but I can get you a discount. Use the code AEAJER to get $50 off.

I wonder if I’ll have online-appropriate stress dreams in the next week? “My internet is down!”, “I got the date and time wrong!”, “I’m not wearing any trousers!”

Actually, that’s pretty much just my waking life these days.

Saturday, August 8th, 2020

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Played some tunes in the park today.

Friday, August 7th, 2020

Playing The Road To Lisdoonvarna (slide) on mandolin:

https://thesession.org/tunes/250

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

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

Replying to

It’s the classic metacrap problem: invisible metadata rots.

https://people.well.com/user/doctorow/metacrap.htm

It’s one of the reasons why microformats always favoured marking up existing, visible (user-facing) data.

Replying to

This is an interesting development though:

https://blog.chromium.org/2020/07/using-chrome-to-generate-more.html

HTML -> accessible PDF as an archival workflow?

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Strolling along the seafront with the Clearleft crew.

Did anyone spot the, um, deliberate mistake at the end of this week’s episode of the Clearleft podcast? Where I sent you to the wrong link for the design maturity survey?

It should be https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/designmaturity

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

Replying to

No rush! You can take as long as you like.

(As you know, I am no stranger to playing the long game. 🙂)

Playing Pull Out The Knife And Stick It Again (jig) on mandolin:

https://thesession.org/tunes/398

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EbhSHyvFls

Replying to

Whoops! Thanks for spotting that—should be fixed now.

Replying to

Nice! (and thank you!)

Replying to

When I was a kid, I thought the word “character” started with a “chuh” sound (’cause, y’know that is how it’s spelled).

I also pronounced the “b” in the “subtle” …which wasn’t.

Reading a lot just leads to embarrassment.