James has penned a sweeping arc from the The Mechanical Turk, Sesame Street, and Teletubbies to Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
Thursday, November 12th, 2020
Friday, March 27th, 2020
I think this is beautiful.
Thursday, May 10th, 2018
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.
Friday, February 2nd, 2018
Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
The Last Jedi
If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi (yet), please stop reading. Spoilers ahoy.
I am well aware that the last thing anybody wants or needs is one more hot take on this film, but what the heck? I figured I’d jot down my somewhat simplistic thoughts.
I loved it.
But I wasn’t sure at first. I’ve talked to other people who felt similarly on first viewing—they weren’t sure if they liked it or not. I know some people who, on reflection, decided they definitely didn’t like it. I completely understand that.
A second viewing helped to cement my positive feelings towards this film. This is starting to become a trend: I didn’t think much of Rogue One on first viewing, but a second watch reversed my opinion completely. Maybe I just find it hard to really get into the flow when I’m seeing a new Star Wars film for the very first time—an event that I once thought would never occur again.
My first viewing of The Last Jedi wasn’t helped by having the worst seats in the house. My original plan was to see it with Jessica at a minute past midnight in The Duke Of York’s in Brighton. I bought front-row tickets as soon as they were available. But then it turned out that we were going to be in Seattle at that time instead. We quickly grabbed whatever tickets were left. Those seats were right at the front and far edge of the cinema, so the screen was more trapezoid than rectangular. The lights went down, the fanfare blared, and the opening crawl begin its march up …and to the left. My brain tried to compensate for the perspective effects but it was hard. Is Snoke’s face supposed to look like that? Does that person really have such a tiny head?
But while the spectacle was somewhat marred, the story unfolded in all its surprising delight. I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of having the narrative rug repeatedly pulled out from under me.
I loved the unexpected end of Snoke in his vampiric boudoir. Let’s face it, he was the least interesting part of The Force Awakens—a two-dimensional evil mastermind. To despatch him in the middle of the middle chapter was the biggest signal that The Last Jedi was not simply going to retread the beats of the original trilogy.
I loved the reveal of Rey’s parentage. This was what I had been hoping for—that Rey came from nowhere in particular. After The Force Awakens, I wrote:
Personally, I’d like it if her parentage were unremarkable. Maybe it’s the socialist in me, but I’ve never liked the idea that the Force is based on eugenics; a genetic form of inherited wealth for the lucky 1%. I prefer to think of the Force as something that could potentially be unlocked by anyone who tries hard enough.
But I had resigned myself to the inevitable reveal that would tie her heritage into an existing lineage. What an absolute joy, then, that The Force is finally returned into everyone’s hands! Anil Dash describes this wonderfully in his post Every Last Jedi:
Though it’s well-grounded in the first definitions of The Force that we were introduced to in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi presents a radically inclusive new view of the Force that is bigger and broader than the Jedi religion which has thus-far colored our view of the entire Star Wars universe.
I was less keen on the sudden Force usage by Leia. I think it was the execution more than the idea that bothered me. Still, I realise that the problem lies just as much with me. See, lots of the criticism of this film comes from people (justifiably) saying “That’s not how The Force works!” in relation to Rey, Kylo Ren, or Luke Skywalker. I don’t share that reaction and I want to say, “Hey, who are we to decide how The Force works?”, but then during the Leia near-death scene, I found myself more or less thinking “That’s not how The Force works!”
This would be a good time to remind ourselves that, in the Star Wars universe, you can substitute the words “The Force” for “The Plot”—an invisible agency guiding actions and changing the course of events.
The first time I saw The Last Jedi, I began to really worry during the film’s climactic showdown. I wasn’t so much worried for the fate of the characters in peril; I was worried for the fate of the overarching narrative. When Luke showed up, my heart sank a little. A deus ex machina …and how did he get here exactly? And then when he emerges unscathed from a barrage of walker cannon fire, I thought “Aw no, they’ve changed the Jedi to be like superheroes …but that’s not the way The Force/Plot works!”
And then I had the rug pulled out from under me again. Yes! What a joyous bit of trickery! My faith in The Force/Plot was restored.
I know a lot of people didn’t like the Canto Bight diversion. Jessica described it as being quite prequel-y, and I can see that. And while I agree that any shot involving our heroes riding across the screen (on a Fathier, on a scout walker) just didn’t work, I liked the world-expanding scope of the caper subplot.
Still, I preferred the Galactica-like war of attrition as the Resistance is steadily reduced in size as they try to escape the relentless pursuit of the First Order. It felt like proper space opera. In some ways, it reminded of Alastair Reynolds but without the realism of the laws of physics (there’s nothing quite as egregious here as J.J. Abrams’ cosy galaxy where the destruction of a system can be seen in real time from the surface of another planet, but The Last Jedi showed again that Star Wars remains firmly in the space fantasy genre rather than hard sci-fi).
Oh, and of course I loved the porgs. But then, I never had a problem with ewoks, so treat my appraisal with a pinch of salt.
I loved seeing the west of coast of Ireland get so much screen time. Beehive huts in a Star Wars film! Mind you, that made it harder for me to get immersed in the story. I kept thinking, “Now, is that Skellig Michael? Or is it on the Dingle peninsula? Or Donegal? Or west Clare?”
For all its global success, Star Wars has always had a very personal relationship with everyone it touches. The films themselves are only part of the reason why people respond to them. The other part is what people bring with them; where they are in life at the moment they’re introduced to this world. And frankly, the films are only part of this symbiosis. As much as people like to sneer at the toys and merchandising as a cheap consumerist ploy, they played a significant part in unlocking my imagination. Growing up in a small town on the coast of Ireland, the Star Wars universe—the world, the characters—was a playground for me to make up stories …just as it was for any young child anywhere in the world.
One of my favourite shots in The Last Jedi looks like it could’ve come from the mind of that young child: an X-wing submerged in the waters of the rocky coast of Ireland. It was as though Rian Johnson had a direct line to my childhood self.
And yet, I think the reason why The Last Jedi works so well is that Rian Johnson makes no concessions to my childhood, or anyone else’s. This is his film. Of all the millions of us who were transported by this universe as children, only he gets to put his story onto the screen and into the saga. There are two ways to react to this. You can quite correctly exclaim “That’s not how I would do it!”, or you can go with it …even if that means letting go of some deeply-held feelings about what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve happened if it were our story.
That said, I completely understand why people might take against this film. Like I said, Rian Johnson makes no concessions. That’s in stark contrast to The Force Awakens. I wrote at the time:
Han Solo picked up the audience like it was a child that had fallen asleep in the car, and he gently tucked us into our familiar childhood room where we can continue to dream. And then, with a tender brush of his hand across the cheek, he left us.
The Last Jedi, on the other hand, thrusts us into this new narrative in the same way you might teach someone to swim by throwing them into the ocean from the peak of Skellig Michael. The polarised reactions to the film are from people sinking or swimming.
I choose to swim. To go with it. To let go. To let the past die.
And yet, one of my favourite takeaways from The Last Jedi is how it offers a healthy approach to dealing with events from the past. Y’see, there was always something that bothered me in the original trilogy. It was one of Yoda’s gnomic pronouncements in The Empire Strikes Back:
Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
That always struck me as a very bro-ish “crushing it” approach to life. That’s why I was delighted that Rian Johnson had Yoda himself refute that attitude completely:
The greatest teacher, failure is.
That’s exactly what Luke needed to hear. It was also what I—many decades removed from my childhood—needed to hear.
Monday, October 2nd, 2017
Alan Kay’s initial description of a “Dynabook” written at Xerox PARC in 1972.
Friday, April 21st, 2017
A write-up of the BrightSparks programme that Clearleft is taking part in.
Each company agreed to help support one local child from a low-income family, on free school meals or with a yearly household income of under £25k.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Ten years on from Afonso Cuarón’s masterpiece.
Friday, October 14th, 2016
This is so great! Charlotte takes two previous ideas she’s been writing about (quantity queries and flexbox) and puts them together in a new way.
It took me a while to get around what the nth-child selectors are doing here, but Charlotte does such great job of explaining the CSS that even I could understand it.
Monday, October 3rd, 2016
Here’s the really clever technique that Charlotte used on the speakers page for this year’s UX London site.
I remember that Jon was really impressed that she managed to implement his crazy design.
Friday, September 23rd, 2016
This is rather lovely: explore a network of nodes, each of which contains the audio of a child describing a dream.
Inspired by the concept of an 8th continent to which all children belong, RadioEight is an interactive soundscape dedicated to the hidden world of dreams.
Sunday, January 17th, 2016
I think I’ve shown great restraint in not linking to loads of think-pieces about Star Wars and The Force Awakens, because believe me, I’ve been reading—and listening to—a lot.
What Jessica has written here is about The Force Awakens. But more than that, it’s about Star Wars. But more than that, it’s about childhood. But more than that…
What I’m saying is: if you only read one thing about the new Star Wars film, read this.
Monday, October 26th, 2015
Monday, October 5th, 2015
Just when I think that I don’t get the point of Medium, along comes Dan to show me the light. This thought-provoking thinkpiece isn’t quite on the same level of his seminal groundbreaking kittens work, but I guarantee it will stay with you.
Monday, August 3rd, 2015
Sounds like a good exercise for explaining just about anything. Smart.
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015
A tool for getting instant visual feedback on your nth-child selectors. Considering that the way I figure out nth-child selectors is to try randomly changing numbers until it works, this should be quite useful for me.
Sunday, December 1st, 2013
This was my favourite moment from the Handheld conference in Cardiff.
Monday, August 12th, 2013
This is a really well-written and worrying piece that pokes at that oft-cited truism about kids today being “digital natives”:
The causes of this lack of digital literacy can be traced back to school:
We’ve mirrored corporate networks, preventing kids and teachers access to system settings, the command line and requiring admin rights to do almost anything. They’re sitting at a general purpose computer without the ability to do any general purpose computing.
Also, this article has the best “TL;DR” description ever.
Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Josh has been teaching HTML and CSS schoolkids. I love the pages that they’ve made. I really mean it. I genuinely think these are wonderful!
Friday, November 16th, 2012
A great short talk from Clare about Code Club.