A 1983 article from 73 Magazine on the surprisingly plausible Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson device created by E.T. to call home.
Sunday, January 15th, 2017
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
This is so wonderful! A 3D fly-through of the Apollo 11 command module, right in your browser. It might get your fan whirring, but it’s worth it.
Click through for lots of great details on the interface controls, like which kinds of buttons and switches were chosen for which tasks.
And there’s this lovely note scrawled near the sextant by Michael Collins (the coolest of all the astronauts):
Spacecraft 107, alias Apollo 11, alias ‘Columbia.’ The Best Ship to Come Down the Line. God Bless Her.
Saturday, October 29th, 2016
As Benedict Evans has noted, the next billion people who are poised to come online will be using the internet almost exclusively through smartphones. And if Google’s plans with Android One are any indication, then we have a fairly good idea of what kind of devices the “next billion” will be using:
- They’ll mostly be running Android.
- They’ll have decent specs (1GB RAM, quad-core processors).
- They’ll have an evergreen browser and WebView (Android 5+).
- What they won’t have, however, is a reliable internet connection.
This is the same argument that Tom made in his presentation at Responsive Field Day. The main point is that network conditions are unreliable, and I absolutely agree that we need to be very, very mindful of that. But I’m not so sure about the other conditions either. They smell like assumptions:
Assumptions are the problem. Whether it’s assumptions about screen size, assumptions about being able-bodied, assumptions about network connectivity, or assumptions about browser capabilities, I don’t think any assumptions are a safe bet. Now you might quite reasonably say that we have to make some assumptions when we’re building on the web, and you’d be right. But I think we should still aim to keep them to a minimum.
It’s not necessarily true that all those new web users will be running WebView browser like Chrome—there are millions of Opera Mini users, and I would expect that number to rise, given all the speed and cost benefits that proxy browsing brings.
I also don’t think that just because a device is a smartphone it necessarily means that it’s a pocket supercomputer. It might seem like a reasonable assumption to make, given the specs of even a low-end smartphone, but the specs don’t tell the whole story.
Alex gave a great presentation at the recent Polymer Summit. He dives deep into exactly how smartphones at the lower end of the market deal with websites.
Alex’s talk prompted Michael Scharnagl to take a look back at past assumptions and lessons learned on the web, from responsive design to progressive web apps.
We are consistently improving and we often have to realize that our assumptions are wrong.
This is particularly true when we’re making assumptions about how people will access the web.
It’s not enough to talk about the “next billion” in abstract, like an opportunity to reach teeming masses of people ripe for monetization. We need to understand their lives and their priorities with the sort of detail that can build empathy for other people living under vastly different circumstances.
That’s from an article Ethan linked to, noting:
When I read articles defining “the mobile web” as “decent hardware and evergreen browsers”, I start thinking hard about our industry biases.— Ethan Marcotte (@beep) October 13, 2016
Monday, October 10th, 2016
A browser for Android that specifically touts privacy and security as its key features.
Monday, September 26th, 2016
Seb is going to be closing out the Brighton Digital Festival with a bang.
Seb unravels all the geeky details about how your favourite retro gadgets work, including Nintendo light guns, Casio keyboards and the cathode ray tube televisions that once dominated our living rooms.
It’s going to be like Seb: The Musical …with lasers.
Monday, September 19th, 2016
Jonathan takes a look at the physical web. Like me, he’s excited by the possibilities. Although he says:
Sadly, my mind quickly devolved into the annoyance of numerous notifications, like popup windows and other distracting adverts, vying for my attention.
This is a common worry with the physical web, but it’s unfounded. All a beacon does is broadcast a URL. You have to actively look for the URLs being broadcast—they can’t send notifications.
It all just feels like QR codes. They’ll be all over the place and most of them won’t be very useful.
I understand this concern, but whereas QR codes are completely opaque to humans, at least URLs can—and should—be human-readable …so, unlike QR codes, a URL can give you some idea of what awaits.
Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
mozilla-magnet/magnet-client-desktop: A simple Physical Web menu-bar app for URL discovery and broadcast
This should be a lot more straightforward than process I linked to before.
Sunday, August 7th, 2016
A wonderful investigation of a culture-shifting mobile device: the kaleidoscope. A classic Gibsonian example of the street finding its own uses for technology, this story comes complete with moral panics about the effects of augmenting reality with handheld devices.
(I’m assuming the title wasn’t written by the author—this piece deals almost exclusively with pre-Victorian England.)
Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Well, this is interesting! It turns out you can turn your laptop into a beacon for broadcasting a URL to devices that support The Physical Web.
Saturday, February 20th, 2016
Related: this great chat between Jen Simmons and Stephanie Rieger.
Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
But we are promised and shown a world where technology is gorgeous and streamlined and helpful and light and unobtrusive. We don’t live in that world. That world is a fantasy. The hope that the Internet of Things will allow us to be free from daily headaches and logistical errors is naive.
Wednesday, September 9th, 2015
We need the Internet of Things to be the next step in the series that began with the general purpose PC and continued with the Internet and general purpose protocols—systems that support personal autonomy and choice. The coming Internet of Things envisions computing devices that will intermediate every aspect of our lives. I strongly believe that this will only provide the envisioned benefits or even be tolerable if we build an Internet of Things rather than a CompuServe of Things.
Imagine a location service that sold itself on the fact that your personal information was securely contained in its environs, used by you and you alone. You could have devices on your person that used their sensors to know things about you – when you last ate, what your dining preferences are, what your blood-sugar is, and so on, but these devices would have no truck with the cloud, and they would not deliver that information to anyone else for analysis.
Monday, August 10th, 2015
Any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from a haunting. In the same way that many Internet of Things objects are referred to as ‘enchanting’ or ‘magical,’ with an intervention, they can very quickly become haunted.
Thursday, April 16th, 2015
Friday, March 13th, 2015
A profile of the great work Aaron and Seb have been doing at the Cooper Hewitt museum. Have a read of this and then have a listen again to Aaron’s dConstruct talk.
Friday, January 23rd, 2015
Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
The Session trad tune machine
I’ve never had much exposure to this world of hacking electronics. I remember getting excited about the possibilities at a Brighton BarCamp back in 2008:
I now have my own little arduino kit, a bread board and a lucky bag of LEDs. Alas, know next to nothing about basic electronics so I’m really going to have to brush up on this stuff.
I never did do any brushing up. But that all changed last week.
Seb is doing a new two-day workshop. He doesn’t call it Internet Of Things. He doesn’t call it Geocities Of Things. He calls it Stuff That Talks To The Interwebs, or STTTTI, or ST4I. He needed some guinea pigs to test his workshop material on, so Clearleft volunteered as tribute.
In short, it was great! And this time, I didn’t stop hacking when I got home.
First off, every workshop attendee gets a hand-picked box of goodies to play with and keep: an arduino mega, a wifi shield, sensors, screens, motors, lights, you name it. That’s the hardware side of things. There are also code samples and libraries that Seb has prepared in advance.
Now, remember, I lack even the most basic knowledge of electronics, but after two days of fiddling with this stuff, it started to click.
On the first workshop day, we all did the same exercises, connected things up, getting them to talk to the internet, that kind of thing. For the second workshop day, Seb encouraged us to think about what we might each like to build.
I was quite taken with the ability of the piezo buzzer to play rudimentary music. I started to wonder if there was a way to hook it up to The Session and have it play the latest jigs, reels, and hornpipes that have been submitted to the site in ABC notation. A little bit of googling revealed that someone had already taken a stab at writing an ABC parser for arduino. I didn’t end up using that code, but it convinced me that what I was trying to do wasn’t crazy.
So I built a machine that plays Irish traditional music from the internet.
The hardware has a piezo buzzer, an “on” button, an “off” button, a knob for controlling the speed of the tune, and an obligatory LED.
The software has a countdown timer that polls a URL every minute or so. The URL is http://tune.adactio.com/. That in turn uses The Session’s read-only API to grab the latest tune activity and then get the ABC notation for whichever tune is at the top of that list. Then it does some cleaning up—removing some of the more advanced ABC stuff—and outputs a single line of notes to be played. I’m fudging things a bit: the device has the range of a tin whistle, and expects tunes to be in the key of D or G, but seeing as that’s at least 90% of Irish traditional music, it’s good enough.
Whenever there’s a new tune, it plays it. Or you can hit the satisfying “on” button to manually play back the latest tune (and yes, you can hit the equally satisfying “off” button to stop it). Being able to adjust the playback speed with a twiddly knob turns out to be particularly handy if you decide to learn the tune.
I added one more lo-fi modification. I rolled up a piece of paper and placed it over the piezo buzzer to amplify the sound. It works surprisingly well. It’s loud!
I’ll keep tinkering with it. It’s fun. I realise I’m coming to this whole hardware-hacking thing very late, but I get it now: it really does feel similar to that feeling you would get when you first figured out how to make a web page back in the days of Geocities. I’ve built something that’s completely pointless for most people, but has special meaning for me. It’s ugly, and it’s inefficient, but it works. And that’s a great feeling.
(P.S. Seb will be running his workshop again on the 3rd and 4th of February, and there will a limited amount of early-bird tickets available for one hour, between 11am and midday this Thursday. I highly recommend you grab one.)
Monday, December 15th, 2014
Seb will be running this workshop again at the start of February—details here. I can’t recommend it highly enough—it’s so, so good!
Sunday, December 14th, 2014