A report on Science Hack Day Berlin (published on the excellent eLife website).
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018
Tuesday, December 26th, 2017
Thursday, December 21st, 2017
How a certificate with extended validation makes it easier to phish. But I think the title could be amended—here’s what’s really broken:
On Safari, the URL is completely hidden! This means the attacker does not even need to register a convincing phishing domain. They can register anything, and Safari will happily cover it with a nice green bar.
Monday, December 18th, 2017
Spot-on take by Ted Chiang:
I used to find it odd that these hypothetical AIs were supposed to be smart enough to solve problems that no human could, yet they were incapable of doing something most every adult has done: taking a step back and asking whether their current course of action is really a good idea. Then I realized that we are already surrounded by machines that demonstrate a complete lack of insight, we just call them corporations.
Related: if you want to see the paperclip maximiser in action, just look at the humans destroying the planet by mining bitcoin.
Thursday, December 7th, 2017
Relive the final trip to the moon with Geno and the crew of Apollo 17 …(real)timeshifted by 45 years.
Monday, November 27th, 2017
Thursday, November 23rd, 2017
Here’s a nice one-sentence definition for the marketing folk:
A Progressive Web App is a regular website following a progressive enhancement strategy to deliver native-like user experiences by using modern Web standards.
But if you’re talking to developers, I implore you to concretely define a Progressive Web App as the combination of HTTPS, a service worker, and a Web App Manifest.
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017
What is a Progressive Web App?
It seems like any new field goes through an inevitable growth spurt that involves “defining the damn thing.” For the first few years of the IA Summit, every second presentation seemed to be about defining what Information Architecture actually is. See also: UX. See also: Content Strategy.
Now it seems to be happening with Progressive Web Apps …which is odd, considering the damn thing is defined damn well.
Regardless of the specifics of the name, what I like about Progressive Web Apps is that they have a clear definition. It reminds me of Responsive Web Design. Whatever you think of that name, it comes with a clear list of requirements:
- A fluid layout,
- Fluid images, and
- Media queries.
Likewise, Progressive Web Apps consist of:
- A service worker, and
- A Web App Manifest.
There’s more you can do in addition to that (just as there’s plenty more you can do on a responsive site), but the core definition is nice and clear.
Except, for some reason, that clarity is being lost.
Here’s a post by Ben Halpern called What the heck is a “Progressive Web App”? Seriously.
I have a really hard time describing what a progressive web app actually is.
He points to Google’s intro to Progressive Web Apps:
Progressive Web Apps are user experiences that have the reach of the web, and are:
- Reliable - Load instantly and never show the downasaur, even in uncertain network conditions.
- Fast - Respond quickly to user interactions with silky smooth animations and no janky scrolling.
- Engaging - Feel like a natural app on the device, with an immersive user experience.
Those are great descriptions of the benefits of Progressive Web Apps. Perfect material for convincing your clients or your boss. But that appears on
developers.google.com …surely it would be more beneficial for that audience to know the technologies that comprise Progressive Web Apps?
Ben Halpern again:
Google’s continued use of the term “quality” in describing things leaves me with a ton of confusion. It really seems like they want PWA to be a general term that doesn’t imply any particular implementation, and have it be focused around the user experience, but all I see over the web is confusion as to what they mean by these things. My website is already “engaging” and “immersive”, does that mean it’s a PWA?
I think it’s important to use the right language for the right audience.
If you’re talking to the business people, tell them about the return on investment you get from Progressive Web Apps.
If you’re talking to the marketing people, tell them about the experiential benefits of Progressive Web Apps.
But if you’re talking to developers, tell them that a Progressive Web App is a website served over HTTPS with a service worker and manifest file.
Tuesday, November 7th, 2017
Questions prompted by the Clearleft gathering in Norway to discuss AI.
Sunday, October 29th, 2017
I like Richard’s five reminders:
- Just because the technology feels magic, it doesn’t mean making it understandable requires magic.
- Designers are going to need to get familiar with new materials to make things make sense to people.
- We need to make sure people have an option to object when something isn’t right.
- We should not fall into the trap of assuming the way to make machine learning understandable should be purely individualistic.
- We also need to think about how we design regulators too.
Saturday, October 7th, 2017
I’ve written before about how I use apps on my phone:
If I install an app on my phone, the first thing I do is switch off all notifications. That saves battery life and sanity.
The only time my phone is allowed to ask for my attention is for phone calls, SMS, or FaceTime (all rare occurrences). I initiate every other interaction—Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, the web. My phone is a tool that I control, not the other way around.
To me, this seems like a perfectly sensible thing to do. I was surprised by how others thought it was radical and extreme.
I’m always shocked when I’m out and about with someone who has their phone set up to notify them of any activity—a mention on Twitter, a comment on Instagram, or worst of all, an email. The thought of receiving a notification upon receipt of an email gives me the shivers. Allowing those kinds of notifications would feel like putting shackles on my time and attention. Instead, I think I’m applying an old-school RSS mindset to app usage: pull rather than push.
Don’t get me wrong: I use apps on my phone all the time: Twitter, Instagram, Swarm (though not email, except in direst emergency). Even without enabling notifications, I still have to fight the urge to fiddle with my phone—to check to see if anything interesting is happening. I’d like to think I’m in control of my phone usage, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. But I do know that my behaviour would be a lot, lot worse if notifications were enabled.
I was a bit horrified when Apple decided to port this notification model to the desktop. There doesn’t seem to be any way of removing the “notification tray” altogether, but I can at least go into System Preferences and make sure that absolutely nothing is allowed to pop up an alert while I’m trying to accomplish some other task.
It’s the same on iOS—you can control notifications from Settings—but there’s an added layer within the apps themselves. If you have notifications disabled, the apps encourage you to enable them. That’s fine …at first. Being told that I could and should enable notifications is a perfectly reasonable part of the onboarding process. But with some apps I’m told that I should enable notifications Every. Single. Time.
Of the apps I use, Instagram and Swarm are the worst offenders (I don’t have Facebook or Snapchat installed so I don’t know whether they’re as pushy). This behaviour seems to have worsened recently. The needling has been dialed up in recent updates to the apps. It doesn’t matter how often I dismiss the dialogue, it reappears the next time I open the app.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal, but I would appreciate some respect for my deliberate choice. It gets pretty wearying over the long haul. To use a completely inappropriate analogy, it’s like a recovering alcoholic constantly having to rebuff “friends” asking if they’re absolutely sure they don’t want a drink.
I don’t think there’s malice at work here. I think it’s just that I’m an edge-case scenario. They’ve thought about the situation where someone doesn’t have notifications enabled, and they’ve come up with a reasonable solution: encourage that person to enable notifications. After all, who wouldn’t want notifications? That question, if it’s asked at all, is only asked rhetorically.
I’m trying to do the healthy thing here (or at least the healthier thing) in being mindful of my app usage. They sure aren’t making it easy.
The model that web browsers use for notifications seems quite sensible in comparison. If you arrive on a site that asks for permission to send you notifications (without even taking you out to dinner first) then you have three options: allow, block, or dismiss. If you choose “block”, that site will never be able to ask that browser for permission to enable notifications. Ever. (Oh, how I wish I could apply that browser functionality to all those sites asking me to sign up for their newsletter!)
That must seem like the stuff of nightmares for growth-hacking disruptive startups looking to make their graphs go up and to the right, but it’s a wonderful example of truly user-centred design. In that situation, the browser truly feels like a user agent.
Monday, October 2nd, 2017
Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
[selectors] Functional pseudo-class like :matches() with 0 specificity · Issue #1170 · w3c/csswg-drafts
A really interesting proposal from Lea that would allow CSS authors to make full use of selectors but without increasing specificity. Great thoughts in the comments too.
Thursday, September 14th, 2017
I’ve seen some lovely examples of the Web Audio API recently.
At the Material conference, Halldór Eldjárn demoed his Poco Apollo project. It generates music on the fly in the browser to match a random image from NASA’s Apollo archive on Flickr. Brian Eno, eat your heart out!
The latest issue of the Clearleft newsletter has some links on sound design in interfaces:
- Why strong sound design is critical to successful products by Amber Case and Aaron Day,
- UI Sounds: From Zero To Hero by Roman Zimarev, and
- Form Validation with Web Audio by Ruth John.
I saw Ruth give a fantastic talk on the Web Audio API at CSS Day this year. It had just the right mixture of code and inspiration. I decided there and then that I’d have to find some opportunity to play around with web audio.
As ever, my own website is the perfect playground. I added an audio Easter egg to adactio.com a while back, and so far, no one has noticed. That’s good. It’s a very, very silly use of sound.
In her talk, Ruth emphasised that the Web Audio API is basically just about dealing with numbers. Lots of the examples of nice usage are the audio equivalent of data visualisation. Data sonification, if you will.
I’ve got little bits of dataviz on my website: sparklines. Each one is a self-contained SVG file. I added a
script element directly in the body). Clicking on the sparkline triggers the sound-playing function.
It sounds terrible. It’s like a theremin with hiccups.
Still, I kind of like it. I mean, I wish it sounded nicer (and I’m open to suggestions on how to achieve that—feel free to fork the code), but there’s something endearing about hearing a month’s worth of activity turned into a wobbling wave of sound. And it’s kind of fun to hear how a particular tag is used more frequently over time.
Anyway, it’s just a silly little thing, but anywhere you spot a sparkline on my site, you can tap it to hear it translated into sound.
Monday, September 11th, 2017
Along the lines of John’s recent post, Henrik makes the business case for progressive web apps.
He also points out how they can be much better than native apps for controlling hardware.
They can be up and running in a fraction of the time whether or not they were already “installed” and unlike “apps” can be saved as an app on the device at the user’s discretion!
Essentially they’re really great for creating “ad hoc” experiences that can be “cold started” on a whim nearly as fast as if it were already installed.
Friday, September 8th, 2017
Thursday, September 7th, 2017
Time-shifted photographs of my hometown in Ireland.
Friday, September 1st, 2017
Manifest files can have categories now. Time to update those JSON files.
A fantastic piece by Aaron who—once again—articulates what I’ve been thinking:
Your site—every site—should be a PWA.
He clearly explains the building blocks of progressive web apps—HTTPS, a manifest file, and a service worker—before describing different scenarios for different kinds of sites:
Progressive Web Apps may seem overly technical or beyond the needs of your project, but they’re really not. They’re just a shorthand for quality web experiences—experiences that can absolutely make a difference in our users’ lives.
Thursday, August 24th, 2017
Jason lists the stages of gradually turning the Cloud Four site into a progressive web app:
And you can just keep incrementally adding and tweaking:
You don’t have to wait to bundle up a binary, submit it to an app store, and wait for approval before your customers benefit.