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Sunday, August 4th, 2019

The sublime Romanticism of the moon landing

The lunar landing was not a scientific announcement or a political press conference; it was a performance, a literal space opera, a Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk that brought together the efforts of more than 400,000 people, performed before an audience of some 650 million. It was a victory, as Armstrong immediately recognized, not of Western democratic capitalism over Soviet tyranny, or of America over the rest of the world, but for humanity. It belongs to the United States no more than Michelangelo does to Italy or Machu Picchu to Peru.

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Neil & Buzz

A delightful dialogue …on the moon!

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

Summer of Apollo

It’s July, 2019. You know what that means? The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission is this month.

I’ve already got serious moon fever, and if you’d like to join me, I have some recommendations…

Watch the Apollo 11 documentary in a cinema. The 70mm footage is stunning, the sound design is immersive, the music is superb, and there’s some neat data visualisation too. Watching a preview screening in the Duke of York’s last week was pure joy from start to finish.

Listen to 13 Minutes To The Moon, the terrific ongoing BBC podcast by Kevin Fong. It’s got all my favourite titans of NASA: Michael Collins, Margaret Hamilton, and Charlie Duke, amongst others. And it’s got music by Hans Zimmer.

Experience the website Apollo 11 In Real Time on the biggest monitor you can. It’s absolutely wonderful! From July 16th, you can experience the mission timeshifted by exactly 50 years, but if you don’t want to wait, you can dive in right now. It genuinely feels like being in Mission Control!

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Phenological Mismatch - e-flux Architecture - e-flux

Over the last fifty years, we have come to recognize that the fuel of our civilizational expansion has become the main driver of our extinction, and that of many of the species we share the planet with. We are now coming to realize that is as true of our cognitive infrastructure. Something is out of sync, felt everywhere: something amiss in the temporal order, and it is as related to political and technological shifts, shifts in our own cognition and attention, as it is to climatic ones. To think clearly in such times requires an intersectional understanding of time itself, a way of thinking that escapes the cognitive traps, ancient and modern, into which we too easily fall. Because our technologies, the infrastructures we have built to escape our past, have turned instead to cancelling our future.

James writes beautifully about rates of change.

The greatest trick our utility-directed technologies have performed is to constantly pull us out of time: to distract us from the here and now, to treat time as a kind of fossil fuel which can be endlessly extracted in the service of a utopian future which never quite arrives. If information is the new oil, we are already, in the hyper-accelerated way of present things, well into the fracking age, with tremors shuddering through the landscape and the tap water on fire. But this is not enough; it will never be enough. We must be displaced utterly in time, caught up in endless imaginings of the future while endlessly neglecting the lessons and potential actions of the present moment.

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Apollo 11 in Real-time

What a magnificent website! You can watch, read, and listen to the entire Apollo 11 mission! Do it now, or wait until until July 16th when you can follow along in real time …time-shifted by half a century.

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

Going Critical — Melting Asphalt

This is an utterly fascinating interactive description of network effects, complete with Nicky Case style games. Play around with the parameters and suddenly you can see things “going viral”:

We can see similar things taking place in the landscape for ideas and inventions. Often the world isn’t ready for an idea, in which case it may be invented again and again without catching on. At the other extreme, the world may be fully primed for an invention (lots of latent demand), and so as soon as it’s born, it’s adopted by everyone. In-between are ideas that are invented in multiple places and spread locally, but not enough so that any individual version of the idea takes over the whole network all at once. In this latter category we find e.g. agriculture and writing, which were independently invented ~10 and ~3 times respectively.

Play around somewhere and you start to see why cities are where ideas have sex:

What I learned from the simulation above is that there are ideas and cultural practices that can take root and spread in a city that simply can’t spread out in the countryside. (Mathematically can’t.) These are the very same ideas and the very same kinds of people. It’s not that rural folks are e.g. “small-minded”; when exposed to one of these ideas, they’re exactly as likely to adopt it as someone in the city. Rather, it’s that the idea itself can’t go viral in the countryside because there aren’t as many connections along which it can spread.

This really is a wonderful web page! (and it’s licensed under a Creative Commons Zero licence)

We tend to think that if something’s a good idea, it will eventually reach everyone, and if something’s a bad idea, it will fizzle out. And while that’s certainly true at the extremes, in between are a bunch of ideas and practices that can only go viral in certain networks. I find this fascinating.

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

I commissioned an oil painting of Barbra Streisand’s cloned dogs

There’s something deliciously appropriate about using a painting cloning service to clone a photograph of some cloned dogs.

“Did you just order an oil painting of Barbra Streisand’s dogs?” is the most Simon and Natalie thing ever.

Although this comes close:

I took it to the framing store and asked if they could do something with “an air of existential dread”… and they nailed it too!

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

An exercise in progressive enhancement - DEV Community 👩‍💻👨‍💻

Hui-Jing talks through her process of building a to-do app on Glitch using a progressive enhancement mindset:

I found that HTML out-of-the-box takes care of a lot of things when it comes to collecting user inputs from the front-end, which resulted in much less code required. This is not to say client-side Javascript is bad, because the experience was smoother (and faster) when I used it for updating content.

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

194028 – Add limits to the amount of JavaScript that can be loaded by a website

Now this is a feature request I can get behind!

A user must provide permission to enable geolocation, or notifications, or camera access, so why not also require permission for megabytes of JavaScript that will block the main thread?

Without limits, there is no incentive for a JavaScript developer to keep their codebase small and dependencies minimal. It’s easy to add another framework, and that framework adds another framework, and the next thing you know you’re loading tens of megabytes of data just to display a couple hundred kilobytes of content.

I’m serious about this. It’s is an excellent proposal for WebKit, similar to the never-slow mode proposed by Alex for Chromium.

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

PushAPI without Notifications | Seblog

Remember when I wrote about using push without notifications? Sebastiaan has written up the details of the experiment he conducted at Indie Web Camp Berlin.

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

[css-exclusions] Status of the exclusions spec #3308

Remember when I said that if we want to see CSS exclusions implemented in browsers, we need to make some noise?

Well, Rachel is taking names, so if you’ve got a use-case, let her know.

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

Push without notifications

On the first day of Indie Web Camp Berlin, I led a session on going offline with service workers. This covered all the usual use-cases: pre-caching; custom offline pages; saving pages for offline reading.

But on the second day, Sebastiaan spent a fair bit of time investigating a more complex use of service workers with the Push API.

The Push API is what makes push notifications possible on the web. There are a lot of moving parts—browser, server, service worker—and, frankly, it’s way over my head. But I’m familiar with the general gist of how it works. Here’s a typical flow:

  1. A website prompts the user for permission to send push notifications.
  2. The user grants permission.
  3. A whole lot of complicated stuff happens behinds the scenes.
  4. Next time the website publishes something relevant, it fires a push message containing the details of the new URL.
  5. The user’s service worker receives the push message (even if the site isn’t open).
  6. The service worker creates a notification linking to the URL, interrupting the user, and generally adding to the weight of information overload.

Here’s what Sebastiaan wanted to investigate: what if that last step weren’t so intrusive? Here’s the alternate flow he wanted to test:

  1. A website prompts the user for permission to send push notifications.
  2. The user grants permission.
  3. A whole lot of complicated stuff happens behinds the scenes.
  4. Next time the website publishes something relevant, it fires a push message containing the details of the new URL.
  5. The user’s service worker receives the push message (even if the site isn’t open).
  6. The service worker fetches the contents of the URL provided in the push message and caches the page. Silently.

It worked.

I think this could be a real game-changer. I don’t know about you, but I’m very, very wary of granting websites the ability to send me push notifications. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever given a website permission to interrupt me with push notifications.

You’ve seen the annoying permission dialogues, right?

In Firefox, it looks like this:

Will you allow name-of-website to send notifications?

[Not Now] [Allow Notifications]

In Chrome, it’s:

name-of-website wants to

Show notifications

[Block] [Allow]

But in actual fact, these dialogues are asking for permission to do two things:

  1. Receive messages pushed from the server.
  2. Display notifications based on those messages.

There’s no way to ask for permission just to do the first part. That’s a shame. While I’m very unwilling to grant permission to be interrupted by intrusive notifications, I’d be more than willing to grant permission to allow a website to silently cache timely content in the background. It would be a more calm technology.

Think of the use cases:

  • I grant push permission to a magazine. When the magazine publishes a new article, it’s cached on my device.
  • I grant push permission to a podcast. Whenever a new episode is published, it’s cached on my device.
  • I grant push permission to a blog. When there’s a new blog post, it’s cached on my device.

Then when I’m on a plane, or in the subway, or in any other situation without a network connection, I could still visit these websites and get content that’s fresh to me. It’s kind of like background sync in reverse.

There’s plenty of opportunity for abuse—the cache could get filled with content. But websites can already do that, and they don’t need to be granted any permissions to do so; just by visiting a website, it can add multiple files to a cache.

So it seems that the reason for the permissions dialogue is all about displaying notifications …not so much about receiving push messages from the server.

I wish there were a way to implement this background-caching pattern without requiring the user to grant permission to a dialogue that contains the word “notification.”

I wonder if the act of adding a site to the home screen could implicitly grant permission to allow use of the Push API without notifications?

In the meantime, the proposal for periodic synchronisation (using background sync) could achieve similar results, but in a less elegant way; periodically polling for new content instead of receiving a push message when new content is published. Also, it requires permission. But at least in this case, the permission dialogue should be more specific, and wouldn’t include the word “notification” anywhere.

Friday, September 28th, 2018

Letterform Archive – From the Collection: Blissymbolics

The fascinating story of Charles K. Bliss and his symbolic language:

The writing system – originally named World Writing in 1942, then Semantography in 1947, and finally Blissymoblics in the 1960s – contains several hundred basic geometric symbols (“Bliss-characters”) that can be combined in different ways to represent more complex concepts (“Bliss-words”). For example, the Bliss-characters for “house” and “medical” are combined to form the Bliss-word for “hospital” or “clinic”. The modular structure invites comparison to the German language; the German word for “hospital ” – “krankenhaus” – translates directly to “sick house”.

Thinking about permissions on the web | Sally Lait

Sally takes a long hard look at permissions on the web. It’s a fascinating topic because of all the parties involved—browsers, developers, and users.

In order to do permissions well, I think there are two key areas to think about - what’s actually being requested, and how it’s being requested.

Is a site being intrusive with what they can potentially learn about me (say, wanting my precise location when it’s unnecessary)? Or is it being intrusive in terms of how they interact with me (popping up a lot of notifications and preventing me from quickly completing my intended task)? If one of those angles doesn’t work well, then regardless of whether the other is acceptable to someone, they’re likely to start opting out and harbouring negative feelings.

Friday, September 14th, 2018

CSS dismissal is about exclusion, not technology

As a community, we love to talk about meritocracy while perpetuating privilege.

This is playing out in full force in the front-end development community today.

Front-end development is a part of the field that has historically been at least slightly more accessible to women.

Shockingly, (not!) this also led to a salary and prestige gap, with back-end developers making on average almost $30,000 more than front-end.

(Don’t read the comments.)

Friday, September 7th, 2018

881410 - Incorrect transforms when stripping subdomains

The latest version of Chrome is removing seams by messing with the display of the URL.

This is a bug.

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Three Missions | Field Notes

Okay, I think I’m going to have to get this pack of three notebooks: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

New Privacy Rules Could Make This Woman One of Tech’s Most Important Regulators - The New York Times

It’s kind of surreal to see a profile in the New York Times of my sister-in-law. Then again, she is Ireland’s data protection commissioner, and what with Facebook, Twitter, and Google all being based in Ireland, and with GDPR looming, her work is more important than ever.

By the way, this article has 26 tracking scripts. I don’t recall providing consent for any of them.

Monday, April 30th, 2018

Apart From Code

A good developer…

  • debugs
  • follows the KISS principle (and respects YAGNI)
  • knows how to research
  • works well with others
  • finds good developer tools
  • tests code

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Progressive Web App for FixMyStreet · Issue #1996 · mysociety/fixmystreet

Here’s a Github issue that turned into a good philosophical debate on how to build a progressive web app: should you enhance your existing site or creating a separate URL?

(For the record: I’m in favour of enhancing.)