There’s a new image format on the browser block and it’s very performant indeed. Jake has all the details you didn’t ask for.
Wednesday, September 9th, 2020
Monday, August 17th, 2020
Netlify redirects and downloads
Making the Clearleft podcast is a lot of fun. Making the website for the Clearleft podcast was also fun.
Design wise, it’s a riff on the main Clearleft site in terms of typography and general layout. On the development side, it was an opportunity to try out an exciting tech stack. The workflow goes something like this:
- Open a text editor and type out HTML and CSS.
Comparing this to other workflows I’ve used in the past, this is definitely the most productive way of working. Some stats:
- Time spent setting up build tools: 00:00
- Time spent wrangling the pipeline to do exactly what you want: 00:00
- Time spent trying to get the damn build tools to work again when you return to the project after leaving it alone for more than a few months: 00:00:00
I have some files. Some images, three font files, a few pages of HTML, one RSS feed, one style sheet, and one minimal service worker script. I don’t need a web server to do anything more than serve up those files. No need for any dynamic server-side processing.
Netlify suits my hosting needs nicely. It also provides the added benefit that, should I need to update my CSS, I don’t need to add a query string or anything to the
link elements in the HTML that point to the style sheet: Netlify does cache invalidation for you!
The mp3 files of the actual podcast episodes are stored on S3. I link to those mp3 files from
enclosure elements in the RSS feed, which is what makes it a podcast. I also point to the mp3 files from
audio elements on the individual episode pages—just above the transcript of each episode. Here’s the page for the most recent episode.
I also want people to be able to download the mp3 file directly if they want (or if they want to huffduff an episode). So I provide a link to the mp3 file with a good ol’-fashioned
a element with an
I throw in one more attribute on that link. The
download attribute tells the browser that the URL in the
href attribute should be downloaded instead of visited. If you give a value for the
download attribute, it will over-ride the file name:
<a href="/files/ugly-file-name.xyz" download="nice-file-name.xyz">download</a>
Or you can use it as a Boolean attribute without any value if you’re happy with the file name:
<a href="/files/nice-file-name.xyz" download>download</a>
There’s one catch though. The
download attribute only works for files on the same origin. That’s an issue for me. My site is
podcast.clearleft.com but my audio files are hosted on
download attribute will be ignored and the mp3 files will play in the browser instead of downloading.
I added a file called
_redirects to the root of my project. It contains one line:
/download/* https://clearleft-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/podcast/:splat 200
That says that any URLs beginning with
/download/ should redirect to
clearleft-audio.s3.amazonaws.com/podcast/. Everything after the closing slash is captured with that wild card asterisk. That’s then passed along to the redirect URL as
:splat. That’s a new one on me. I hadn’t come across that terminology, but as someone who can never remember the syntax of regular expressions, it works for me.
Oh, and the
200at the end is the status code: okay.
Now I can use this
/download/ path in my link:
<a href="/download/season01episode06.mp3" download>Download mp3</a>
Because this URL on the same origin, the
download attribute works just fine.
Sunday, August 9th, 2020
Fourteen years ago, I gave a talk at the Reboot conference in Copenhagen. It was called In Praise of the Hyperlink. For the most part, it was a gushing love letter to hypertext, but it also included this observation:
For a conspiracy theorist, there can be no better tool than a piece of technology that allows you to arbitrarily connect information. That tool now exists. It’s called the World Wide Web and it was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
You know those “crazy walls” that are such a common trope in TV shows and movies? The detectives enter the lair of the unhinged villain and discover an overwhelming wall that’s like looking at the inside of that person’s head. It’s not the stuff itself that’s unnerving; it’s the red thread that connects the stuff.
Red thread. Blue hyperlinks.
When I spoke about the World Wide Web, hypertext, apophenia, and conspiracy theorists back in 2006, conspiracy theories could still be considered mostly harmless. It was the domain of Dan Brown potboilers and UFO enthusiasts with posters on their walls declaring “I Want To Believe”. But even back then, 911 truthers were demonstrating a darker side to the fun and games.
There’s always been a gamification angle to conspiracy theories. Players are rewarded with the same dopamine hits for “doing the research” and connecting unrelated topics. Now that’s been weaponised into QAnon.
In his newsletter, Dan Hon wrote QAnon looks like an alternate reality game. You remember ARGs? The kind of designed experience where people had to cooperate in order to solve the puzzle.
Being a part of QAnon involves doing a lot of independent research. You can imagine the onboarding experience in terms of being exposed to some new phrases, Googling those phrases (which are specifically coded enough to lead to certain websites, and certain information). Finding something out, doing that independent research will give you a dopamine hit. You’ve discovered something, all by yourself. You’ve achieved something. You get to tell your friends about what you’ve discovered because now you know a secret that other people don’t. You’ve done something smart.
We saw this in the games we designed. Players love to be the first person to do something. They love even more to tell everyone else about it. It’s like Crossfit.
Dan’s brother Adrian also wrote about this connection: What ARGs Can Teach Us About QAnon:
There is a vast amount of information online, and sometimes it is possible to solve “mysteries”, which makes it hard to criticise people for trying, especially when it comes to stopping perceived injustices. But it’s the sheer volume of information online that makes it so easy and so tempting and so fun to draw spurious connections.
This is something that Molly Sauter has been studying for years now, like in her essay The Apophenic Machine:
Humans are storytellers, pattern-spotters, metaphor-makers. When these instincts run away with us, when we impose patterns or relationships on otherwise unrelated things, we call it apophenia. When we create these connections online, we call it the internet, the web circling back to itself again and again. The internet is an apophenic machine.
I remember interviewing Lauren Beukes back in 2012 about her forthcoming book about a time-travelling serial killer:
Me: And you’ve written a time-travel book that’s set entirely in the past.
Lauren: Yes. The book ends in 1993 and that’s because I did not want to have to deal with Kirby the heroine getting some access to CCTV cameras and uploading the footage to 4chan and having them solve the mystery in four minutes flat.
By the way, I noticed something interesting about the methodology behind conspiracy theories—particularly the open-ended never-ending miasma of something like QAnon. It’s no surprise that the methodology is basically an inversion of the scientific method. It’s the Texas sharpshooter fallacy writ large. Well, you know the way that I’m always going on about design principles and they way that good design principles should be reversible? Conspiracy theories take universal principles and invert them. Take Occam’s razor:
Do not multiply entities without necessity.
That’s what they want you to think! Wake up, sheeple! The success of something like QAnon—or a well-designed ARG—depends on a mindset that rigorously inverts Occam’s razor:
Multiply entities without necessity!
That’s always been the logic of conspiracy theories from faked moon landings to crop circles. I remember well when the circlemakers came clean and showed exactly how they had been making their beautiful art. Conspiracy theorists—just like cultists—don’t pack up and go home in the face of evidence. They double down. There was something almost pitiable about the way the crop circle UFO crowd were bending over backwards to reject proof and instead apply the inversion of Occam’s razor to come up with even more outlandish explanations to encompass the circlemakers’ confession.
I think the best way to fight QAnon, at its roots, is with a robust social safety net program. This not-a-game is being played out of fear, out of a lack of safety, and it’s meeting peoples’ needs in a collectively, societally destructive way.
I want to add one more red thread to this crazy wall. There’s a book about conspiracy theories that has become more and more relevant over time. It’s also wonderfully entertaining. Here’s my recommendation from that Reboot presentation in 2006:
For a real hot-tub of conspiracy theory pleasure, nothing beats Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.
…luck rewarded us, because, wanting connections, we found connections — always, everywhere, and between everything. The world exploded into a whirling network of kinships, where everything pointed to everything else, everything explained everything else…
Saturday, August 1st, 2020
Friday, July 31st, 2020
A really lovely unmonetisable enthusiasm:
All 2,242 illustrations from James Sowerby’s compendium of knowledge about mineralogy in Great Britain and beyond, drawn 1802–1817 and arranged by color.
Friday, July 24th, 2020
This is such a clever and useful technique! It’s HTML+CSS only, and it’s a far less annoying way to display animated GIFs.
(Does anybody even qualify the word GIF with the adjective “animated” anymore? Does anyone know that there used to be such a thing as non-animated GIFs and that they were everywhere?)
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020
Wildlife Photographer Of The Year on the Clearleft podcast
This one is a bit different. Whereas previous episodes focused on specific topics—design systems, service design—this one is a case study. And, wow, what a case study! The whole time I was putting the episode together, I kept thinking “The team really did some excellent work here.”
I’m not sure what makes more sense: listen to the podcast episode first and then visit the site in question …or the other way around? Maybe the other way around. In which case, be sure to visit the website for Wildlife Photographer Of The Year.
This episode of the podcast ended up being half an hour long. It should probably be shorter but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut any of the insights that Helen, James, Chris, and Trys were sharing. I’m probably too close to the subject matter to be objective about it. I’m hoping that others will find it equally fascinating to hear about the process of the project. Research! Design! Dev! This has got it all.
I had a lot of fun with the opening of the episode. I wanted to create a montage effect like the scene-setting opening of a film that has overlapping news reports. I probably spent far too long doing it but I’m really happy with the final result.
And with this episode, we’re halfway through the first season of the podcast already! I figured a nice short run of six episodes is enough to cover a fair bit of ground and give a taste of what the podcast is aiming for, without it turning into an overwhelming number of episodes in a backlog for you to catch up with. Three down and three to go. Seems manageable, right?
Anyway, enough of the backstory. If you haven’t already subscribed to the Clearleft podcast, you should do that. Then do these three things in whichever order you think works best:
Saturday, July 11th, 2020
Friday, July 10th, 2020
An excellent and clear explanation of specificity in CSS.
Sunday, July 5th, 2020
Notes on the old internet, its design and frontend.
Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
There is a gentle sadness to being present in a moment so precious that you know you’ll never forget it, and will revisit it as a memory time and time again. It will be a shadow, many details missing, the moment bittersweet.
Sunday, June 28th, 2020
Probably fewer than a hundred people in the world have seen what you’re looking at right now.
Jessica and I were taking turns at the microscope when we were told that.
Let me back up a bit and explain how we found ourselves in this this situation…
It all started with The Session, the traditional Irish music community site that I run. There’s a big focus on getting together and playing music—something that’s taken a big hit during this global pandemic. Three sections of the website are devoted to face-to-face gatherings: events (like concerts and festivals), sessions, and the most recent addition, trips.
The idea with trips is that you input somewhere you’re going to be travelling to, along with the dates you’ll be there. It’s like a hyper-focused version of Dopplr. The site then shows you if any events are happening, if there are any sessions on, and also if there are any members of the site in that locality (if those members have added their location to their profiles).
Last August, I added the trips I would be taking in the States. There’s be a trip to Saint Augustine to hang out with Jessica’s family, a trip to Chicago to speak at An Event Apart, and a trip to New York for a couple of days because that’s where the ocean liner was going to deposit us after our transatlantic crossing.
A fellow member of The Session named Aaron who is based in New York saw my trip and contacted me to let me know about the session he goes to (he plays tin whistle). Alas, that session didn’t coincide with our short trip. But he also added:
I work at the American Museum of Natural History, and if you have time and interest, I can provide you with vouchers for tickets to as many special exhibits and such as you’d like!
Ooh, that sounded like fun! He also said:
In fact I could give you a quick behind-the-scenes tour if you’re interested.
Jessica and I didn’t have any set plans for our time in New York, so we said why not?
That’s how we ended spending a lovely afternoon being shown around the parts of the museum that the public don’t usually get to see. It’s quite the collection of curiosities back there!
There’s also plenty of research. Aaron’s particular area was looking into an entirely different kingdom of life—neither animal, nor plant, nor fungus. Remarkably, these microscopic creatures were first identified—by a classmate of Aaron’s—by happenstance in 2016:
The hemimastigotes analyzed by the Dalhousie team were found by Eglit during a spring hike with some other students along the Bluff Wilderness Trail outside Halifax a couple of years ago. She often has empty sample vials in her pockets or bags, and scooped a few tablespoons of dirt into one of them from the side of the trail.
That’s like a doctor announcing that they’d come across a hitherto-unknown limb on the human body. The findings were published in the paper, Hemimastigophora is a novel supra-kingdom-level lineage of eukaryotes in 2018.
In the “backstage” area of the American Museum of Natural History, Aaron had samples of them. He put them under the microscope for us. As we took turns looking at them wriggling their flagella, Aaron said:
Probably fewer than a hundred people in the world have seen what you’re looking at right now.
Friday, June 26th, 2020
A useful resource for CSS grid. It’s basically the spec annoted with interactive examples.
Monday, June 15th, 2020
A service that—amongst other things—allows you to read newsletters in your RSS reader.
Wednesday, May 13th, 2020
Reef is an anti-framework.
It does a lot less than the big guys like React and Vue. It doesn’t have a Virtual DOM. It doesn’t require you to learn a custom templating syntax. It doesn’t provide a bunch of custom methods.
Reef does just one thing: render UI.
Monday, May 4th, 2020
This is for everyone at Clearleft, but I’m sharing it here for you too.
Thursday, April 30th, 2020
This is a great case study of the excellent California COVID-19 response site. Accessibility and performance are the watchwords here.
Want to know their secret weapon?
A $20 device running Android 9, with no contract commitment has been one of the most useful and effective tools in our effort to be accessible.
Leaner, faster sites benefit everybody, but making sure your applications run smoothly on low-end hardware makes a massive difference for those users.
Wednesday, April 8th, 2020
A 2015 paper by Long Tien Nguyen and Alan Kay with a proposal for digital preservation.
We discuss the problem of running today’s software decades,centuries, or even millennia into the future.
Monday, March 30th, 2020
We should celebrate our hobbies for the joy-giving activities they are, and recognize that they don’t need to become anything bigger than that. And of course that’s not to say they those hobbies can’t turn into something bigger — it’s incredible when your passions and your occupation overlap — but it should be because you want to rather than that you feel pressured to. Not every activity you do needs to become a big official thing.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2020
I wrote yesterday about how messing about on your own website can be a welcome distraction. I did some tinkering with adactio.com on the weekend that you might be interested in.
Let me set the scene…
I’ve started recording and publishing a tune a day. I grab my mandolin, open up Quicktime and make a movie of me playing a jig, a reel, or some other type of Irish tune. I include a link to that tune on The Session and a screenshot of the sheet music for anyone who wants to play along. And I embed the short movie clip that I’ve uploaded to YouTube.
iframe has been delivered for nothing.
Meanwhile over on The Session, I’ve got a strategy for embedding YouTube videos that’s better for performance. Whenever somebody posts a link to a video on YouTube, the thumbnail of the video is embedded. Only when you click the thumbnail does that image get swapped out for the
iframe with the video.
That’s what I needed to do here on adactio.com.
That code checks to see if the URL is from a service that provides an oEmbed endpoint. A what-Embed? oEmbed!
In this case
http://example.com/oembed is the endpoint and
url is the value of a URL from that provider. Here’s a real life example from YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/oembed is the endpoint and
url is the address of any video on YouTube.
You get back some JSON with a pre-defined list of values like
html payload is the markup for your embed code.
By default, YouTube sends back markup like this:
allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture"
But now I want to use an
img instead of an
iframe. One of the other values returned is
thumbnail_url. That’s the URL of a thumbnail image that looks something like this:
In fact, once you know the ID of a YouTube video (the
?v= bit in a YouTube URL), you can figure out the path to multiple images of different sizes:
- 120 × 90:
- 320 × 180:
- 480 × 360:
- 1280 × 720:
(Although that last one—
maxresdefault.jpg—might not work for older videos.)
Okay, so I need to extract the ID from the YouTube URL. Here’s the PHP I use to do that:
parse_str(parse_url($url, PHP_URL_QUERY), $arguments);
$id = $arguments['v'];
Then I can put together some HTML like this:
<a class="videoimglink" href="'.$url.'">
<img width="100%" loading="lazy"
Over on The Session, I’m using
addEventListener but here on adactio.com I’m going to be dirty and listen for the event directly in the markup using the
When the link is clicked, I nuke the link and the image using
innerHTML. This injects an iframe where the link used to be (by updating the
innerHTML value of the link’s
But notice that I’m not using the default YouTube URL for the iframe. That would be:
Instead I’m swapping out the domain
I can’t remember where I first came across this undocumented parallel version of YouTube that has, yes, you guessed it, no cookies. It turns out that, not only is the default YouTube embed code bad for performance, it is—unsurprisingly—bad for privacy too. So the
youtube-nocookie.com domain can protect your site’s visitors from intrusive tracking. Pass it on.
Anyway, I’ve got the markup I want now:
<a class="videoimglink" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eiqhVmSPcs"
<img width="100%" loading="lazy"
alt="The Banks Of Lough Gowna (jig) on mandolin"
The functionality is all there. But I want to style the embedded images to look more like playable videos. Time to break out some CSS (this is why I added the
videoimglink class to the YouTube link).
I’m going to use generated content to create a play button icon. Because I can’t use generated content on an
img element, I’m applying these styles to the containing
I was going to make an SVG but then I realised I could just be lazy and use the unicode character instead.
Right. Time to draw the rest of the fucking owl:
top: calc(50% - 5vmax);
left: calc(50% - 5vmax);
That’s a bunch of instructions for sizing and positioning. I’d explain it, but that would require me to understand it and frankly, I’m not entirely sure I do. But it works. I think.
With a translucent play icon positioned over the thumbnail, all that’s left is to add a
:hover style to adjust the opacity:
Wheresoever thou useth
:hover, thou shalt also useth
Okay. It’s good enough. Ship it!
If you embed YouTube videos on your site, and you’d like to make them more performant, check out this custom element that Paul made: Lite YouTube Embed. And here’s a clever technique that uses the
srcdoc attribute to get a similar result (but don’t forget to use the