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.
Monday, March 30th, 2020
Thursday, March 19th, 2020
COVID-19 has really made me realize that we need to be grateful for the people and activities we take for granted. Things like going out for food, seeing friends, going to the gym, etc., are fun, but are not essential for (physical) survival.
It reminds of Brian Eno’s definition of art: art is anything we don’t have to do. It’s the same with social activities. We don’t have to go to concerts—we can listen to music at home. We don’t have to go the cinema—we can watch films at home. We don’t have to go to conferences—we can read books and blog posts at home. We don’t have to go out to restaurants—all our nutritional needs can be met at home.
But it’s not the same though, is it?
I think about the book Station Eleven a lot. The obvious reason why I’d be thinking about it is that it describes a deadly global pandemic. But that’s not it. Even before The Situation, Station Eleven was on my mind for helping provide clarity on the big questions of life; y’know, the “what’s it all about?” questions like “what’s the meaning of life?”
Part of the reason I think about Station Eleven is its refreshingly humanist take on a post-apocalyptic society. As I discussed on this podcast episode a few years back:
It’s interesting to see a push-back against the idea that if society is removed we are going to revert to life being nasty, brutish and short. Things aren’t good after this pandemic wipes out civilisation, but people are trying to put things back together and get along and rebuild.
Related to that, Station Eleven describes a group of people in a post-pandemic world travelling around performing Shakespeare plays. At first I thought this was a ridiculous conceit. Then I realised that this was the whole point. We don’t have to watch Shakespeare to survive. But there’s a difference between surviving and living.
I’m quite certain that one positive outcome of The Situation will be a new-found appreciation for activities we don’t have to do. I’m looking forward to sitting in a pub with a friend or two, or going to see a band, or a play or a film, and just thinking “this is nice.”
Wednesday, January 1st, 2020
So that was 2019. Quite a year.
Looking back, there were some real highlights for me…
- Going to CERN in February to be part of the project to recreate the first web browser was like a dream come true. It really was an honour and a privilege to be part of it.
- In July, I returned to Miltown Malbay for the Willie Clancy Summer School after an unreasonably long hiatus of fifteen years. I had a great time immersed in traditional Irish music.
- In August, Jessica and I crossed the Atlantic on board the Queen Mary 2. That was an unforgettable experience.
Then there were the usual benefits that come with speaking at international conferences like An Event Apart and Beyond Tellerrand. I got to visit interesting places, eat excellent food, and meet good people.
Not everything was rosy. There were some sad life events for friends and family. And of course the whole political situation here in the UK has been just awful in 2019.
So onwards to 2020. I need to remind myself that many things are going well in the world but it can be hard to keep that in mind. At a local—nay, parochial—level, there’s a good chance that 2020 will deliver a hard Brexit. I have no faith in the competence or motivations of the current government to do otherwise (I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to stay in this country if it falls apart). And at the global scale, our attempts to mitigate the climate crisis are proceeding too slowly.
That’s something I need to take more personal responsibility for in 2020: fewer plane journeys, more trains, and more carbon offsetting.
Ultimately, it’s a fairly arbitrary moment in time but I do like to pause for a moment and look back at the year that’s just been. For all its faults, I have happy memories. I’m healthy. I played lots of music. I ate well. I spent time with friends and family.
I look forward to more of that in the third decade of the 21st century.
Monday, December 2nd, 2019
This book is a beautiful tribute to Cindy.
Several talented illustrators have come together to create a unique book about unique animals. Each contributor has a special connection to the book’s original illustrator, Cindy Li. When she was unable to complete the illustrations before passing away in 2018, many of Cindy’s talented friends offered to help finish the project.
I think you should get a copy of this book for the little animal lover in your life this Christmas.
Proceeds from the sale of this book benefit Apollo Li Harris and Orion Li Harris, two out-of-this-world kids who had an amazing mom.
Friday, July 19th, 2019
I’ve shaped this timeline over five months. It might look simple, but it most definitely was not. I liken it to chipping away at a block of marble, or the slow process of evolving a painting, or constructing a poem; endless edits, questions, doubling back, doubts. It was so good to have something meaty to get stuck into, but sometimes it was awful, and many times I considered throwing it away. Overall it was challenging, fun, and worth the effort.
Simon describes the process of curating the lovely timeline on his personal homepage.
My timeline is just like me, and just like my life: unfinished, and far from perfect.
Monday, June 24th, 2019
Frank Chimero on causing ‘good trouble’ and re-imagining the status quo to combat achievement culture | Creative Boom
It’s really easy to think that not working full bore is somehow failing your teammates or that withholding effort is poor work ethic and moral weakness. That thought is worth interrogating, though, and it all seems kind of ridiculous once you get it out in the open. There should be no guilt for refusing to work hysterically.
Thursday, March 7th, 2019
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:
Sunday, February 17th, 2019
Living things are just a better way for nature to dissipate energy and increase the universe’s entropy.
No anthropocentric exceptionalism here; just the laws of thermodynamics.
According to the inevitable life theory, biological systems spontaneously emerge because they more efficiently disperse, or “dissipate” energy, thereby increasing the entropy of the surroundings. In other words, life is thermodynamically favorable.
As a consequence of this fact, something that seems almost magical happens, but there is nothing supernatural about it. When an inanimate system of particles, like a group of atoms, is bombarded with flowing energy (such as concentrated currents of electricity or heat), that system will often self-organize into a more complex configuration—specifically an arrangement that allows the system to more efficiently dissipate the incoming energy, converting it into entropy.
Tuesday, January 1st, 2019
A profile of Brighton, featuring Clearleft’s own Chris How.
Monday, December 31st, 2018
I can relate to Ethan’s 16-step process for writing conference talks.
Step 14 is the most important.
Friday, October 26th, 2018
Terrible title; nice article. Rich speaks his brains about Clearleft and what we like about being in Brighton.
Wednesday, June 27th, 2018
I know I should remain calm and sceptical about announcements like this, but …SQUEEEE!
Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018
A report on Science Hack Day Berlin (published on the excellent eLife website).
Monday, June 5th, 2017
eLife goes live
The World Wide Web was forged in the crucible of science. Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research, a remarkable place where the pursuit of knowledge—rather than the pursuit of profit—is the driving force.
I often wonder whether the web as we know it—an open, decentralised system—could’ve been born anywhere else. These days it’s easy to focus on the success stories of the web in the worlds of commerce and social networking, but I still find there’s something that really “clicks” with the web and the science (Zooniverse being a classic example).
At Clearleft we’ve been lucky enough to work on science-driven projects like the Wellcome Library and the Wellcome Trust. It’s incredibly rewarding to work on projects where the bottom line is measured in knowledge-sharing rather than moolah. So when we were approached by eLife to help them with an upcoming redesign, we jumped at the chance.
We usually help organisations through our expertise in user-centred design, but in this case the design and UX were already in hand. The challenge was in the implementation. The team at eLife knew that they wanted a modular pattern library to keep their front-end components documented and easily reusable. Given Clearleft’s extensive experience with building pattern libraries, this was a match made in heaven (or whatever the scientific non-theistic equivalent of heaven is).
A group of us travelled up from Brighton to Cambridge to kick things off with a workshop. Before diving into code, it was important to set out the aims for the redesign, and figure out how a pattern library could best support those aims.
Right away, I was struck by the great working relationship between design and front-end development within eLife—there was a great collaborative spirit to the endeavour.
Some goals for the redesign soon emerged:
- Promote the HTML reading experience as a 1st choice for readers.
- Align the online experience with the eLife visual identity.
That led to some design principles:
- Focus on content not site furniture.
- Remove visual clutter and provide no more than the user needs at any stage of the experience.
- Aid discovery of value added content beyond the manuscript.
Those design principles then informed the front-end development process. Together we came up with a priority of concerns:
- Taking advantage of browser capabilities
- Visual appeal
It’s interesting that maintainability was such a high priority that it superseded even performance, but we also proposed a hypothesis at the same time:
Maintainability doesn’t negatively impact performance.
The combination of the design principles and priorities led us to formulate approaches that could be used throughout the project:
- Progressive enhancement.
- Small-screen first responsive images.
- Only add libraries as needed.
Then we dived into the tech stack: build tools, version control approaches, and naming methodologies. BEM was the winner there.
None of those decisions were set in stone, but they really helped to build a solid foundation for the work ahead. Graham camped out in Cambridge for a while, embedding himself in the team there as they began the process of identifying, naming, and building the components.
The work continued after Clearleft’s involvement wrapped up, and I’m happy to say that it all paid off. The new eLife site has just gone live. It’s looking—and performing—beautifully.
What a great combination: the best of the web and the best of science!
eLife is a non-profit organisation inspired by research funders and led by scientists. Our mission is to help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
Tim Bray lists the options available to a technically-minded person thinking about their career path …but doesn’t mention the option of working at an agency.
Some good long-zoom observations in here:
The bad news that it’s a lot of work. We’re a young profession and we’re still working out our best practices, so the ground keeps changing under you; it doesn’t get easier as the decades go by.
The good news is that it doesn’t get harder either. Once you learn to stop expecting your knowledge to stay fresh, the pace of innovation doesn’t feel to me like it’s much faster (or slower) now than it was in 1987 or 1997 or 2007. More good news: The technology gets better. Seriously, we are so much better at building software now than we used to be in any of those other years ending in 7.
Saturday, February 4th, 2017
Philip Ball certainly has a way with words.
Monday, January 23rd, 2017
This is beautifully intimate. Your role is that of an anthropologist in orbit around Earth observing the everyday moments on the planet below through uploaded videos that have never been viewed by another human.
Monday, November 21st, 2016
Here’s a fun cosmic hypothesis on the scale of an Olaf Stapeldon story. There are even implications for data storage:
By storing its essential data in photons, life could give itself a distributed backup system. And it could go further, manipulating new photons emitted by stars to dictate how they interact with matter. Fronts of electromagnetic radiation could be reaching across the cosmos to set in motion chains of interstellar or planetary chemistry with exquisite timing, exploiting wave interference and excitation energies in atoms and molecules.
Sunday, October 16th, 2016
Jake goes into the details of what exactly is happening when a service worker is installed or replaced.
This is easily the most complex part of working with service workers, and I think I’m beginning to wrap my head around it, but the good news is that, for the most part, you don’t really need to know the ins and outs of this to get started (and dev tools are now making it easier to nuke from orbit if this begins to bite).
Friday, July 22nd, 2016
The life cycle of a Service Worker—with all its events and states—is the one bit that I’ve never paid that much attention to. My eyes just glaze over when it comes to installation, registration, and activation. But this post explains the whole process really clearly. Now it’s starting to make sense to me.