Monday, January 20th, 2020
Monday, December 2nd, 2019
The design history of the New York subway map.
Thursday, October 31st, 2019
Remember when I wrote about adding travel maps to my site at the recent Indie Web Camp Brighton? I must confess that the last line I wrote was an attempt to catch a fish from the river of the lazy web:
It’s a shame that I can’t use the lovely Stamen watercolour tiles for these static maps though.
In the spirit of Cunningham’s Law, I was hoping that somebody was going to respond with “It’s totally possible to use Stamen’s watercolour tiles for static maps, dumbass—look!” (to which my response would have been “thank you very much!”).
Alas, no such response was forthcoming. The hoped-for schooling never forthcame.
Still, I couldn’t quite let go of the idea of using those lovely watercolour maps somewhere on my site. But I had decided that dynamic maps would have been overkill for my archive pages:
Sure, it looked good, but displaying the map required requests for a script, a style sheet, and multiple map tiles.
Then I had a thought. What if I keep the static maps on my archive pages, but make them clickable? Then, on the other end of that link, I can have the dynamic version. In other words, what if I had a separate URL just for the dynamic maps?
These seemed like a good plan to me, so while I was travelling by Eurostar—the only way to travel—back from the lovely city of Antwerp where I had been speaking at Full Stack Europe, I started hacking away on making the dynamic maps even more dynamic. After all, now that they were going to have their own pages, I could go all out with any fancy features I wanted.
I kept coming back to my original goal:
I was looking for something more like the maps in Indiana Jones films—a line drawn from place to place to show the movement over time.
I found a plug-in for Leaflet.js that animates polylines—thanks, Iván! With a bit of wrangling, I was able to get it to animate between the lat/lon points of whichever archive section the map was in. Rather than have it play out automatically, I also added a control so that you can start and stop the animation. While I was at it, I decided to make that “play/pause” button do something else too. Ahem.
If you’d like to see the maps in action, click the “play” button on any of these maps:
- Everything from this August.
- Links from June 2017.
- Photos from October 2014.
- The entirety of 2018—that might take a while.
You get the idea. It’s all very silly really. It’s right up there with the time I made my sparklines playable. But that’s kind of the point. It’s my website so I can do whatever I want with it, no matter how silly.
First of all, the research department for adactio.com (that’s me) came up with the idea. Then that had to be sold in to upper management (that’s me too). A team was spun up to handle design and development (consisting of me and me). Finally, the finished result went live thanks to the tireless efforts of the adactio.com ops group (that would be me). Any feedback should be directed at the marketing department (no idea who that is).
Monday, October 21st, 2019
It was Indie Web Camp Brighton on the weekend. After a day of thought-provoking discussions, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the second day tinkering on my website.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to add maps to my monthly archive pages (to accompany the calendar heatmaps I added at a previous Indie Web Camp). Whenever I post anything to my site—a blog post, a note, a link—it’s timestamped and geotagged. I thought it would be fun to expose that in a glanceable way. A map seems like the right medium for that, but I wanted to avoid the obvious route of dropping a load of pins on a map. Instead I was looking for something more like the maps in Indiana Jones films—a line drawn from place to place to show the movement over time.
After two hours, I admitted defeat.
I was able to find the kind of static maps I wanted from Mapbox—I’m already using them for my check-ins. I could even add a polyline, which is exactly what I wanted. But instead of passing latitude and longitude co-ordinates for the points on the polyline, the docs explain that I needed to provide …cur ominous thunder and lightning… The Encoded Polyline Algorithm Format.
Go to that link. I’ll wait.
Did you read through the eleven steps of instructions? Did you also think it was a piss take?
- Take the initial signed value.
- Multiply it by 1e5.
- Convert that decimal value to binary.
- Left-shift the binary value one bit.
- If the original decimal value is negative, invert this encoding.
- Break the binary value out into 5-bit chunks.
- Place the 5-bit chunks into reverse order.
- OR each value with 0x20 if another bit chunk follows.
- Convert each value to decimal.
- Add 63 to each value.
- Convert each value to its ASCII equivalent.
This was way beyond my brain’s pay grade. But surely someone else had written the code I needed? I did some Duck Duck Going and found a piece of PHP code to do the encoding. It didn’t work. I Ducked Ducked and Went some more. I found a different piece of PHP code. That didn’t work either.
At this point, my allotted time was up. If I wanted to have something to demo by the end of the day, I needed to switch gears. So I did.
It waits until the page has finished loading, then it searches for any instances of the
h-geo microformat (a way of encoding latitude and longitude coordinates in HTML). If there are three or more, it generates a
script element to pull in the Leaflet library, and a corresponding
style element. Then it draws the map with the polyline on it. I ended up using Stamen’s beautiful watercolour map tiles.
That’s what I demoed at the end of the day.
But I wasn’t happy with it.
Sure, it looked good, but displaying the map required requests for a script, a style sheet, and multiple map tiles. I made sure that it didn’t hold up the loading of the rest of the page, but it still felt wasteful.
So after Indie Web Camp, I went back to investigate static maps again. This time I did finally manage to find some PHP code for encoding lat/lon coordinates into a polyline that worked. Finally I was able to construct URLs for a static map image that displays a line connecting multiple points with a line.
I’ve put this maps on any of the archive pages that also have calendar heat maps. Some examples:
- Everything from August 2019
- Notes from July 2018
- Links from June 2017
- Photos from October 2014
- Journal entries from December 2012
If you go back much further than that, the maps start to trail off. That’s because I wasn’t geotagging everything from the start.
I’m pretty happy with the final results. It’s certainly far more responsible from a performance point of view. Oh, and I’ve also got the maps inside a
picture element so that I can swap out the tiles if you switch to dark mode.
It’s a shame that I can’t use the lovely Stamen watercolour tiles for these static maps though.
Sunday, July 21st, 2019
A look at all the factors that went into choosing the Apollo landing sites, including this gem:
Famous amateur astronomer, Sir Patrick Moore, also produced a hand drawn map of the moon from his own observations using his homemade telescope at his home in Selsey, Sussex. These detailed pen and ink maps of the Moon’s surface were used by NASA as part of their preparations for the moon landing.
Monday, July 1st, 2019
The Decolonial Atlas is a growing collection of maps which, in some way, help us to challenge our relationships with the land, people, and state. It’s based on the premise that cartography is not as objective as we’re made to believe.
For example: Names and Locations of the Top 100 People Killing the Planet — a cartogram showing the location of decision makers in the top 100 climate-hostile companies.
This map is a response to the pervasive myth that we can stop climate change if we just modify our personal behavior and buy more green products. Whether or not we separate our recycling, these corporations will go on trashing the planet unless we stop them.
Sunday, June 30th, 2019
Lighthouses of the world, mapped.
Monday, June 17th, 2019
How cartography made early modern global trade possible.
Maps and legends. Beautiful!
Sunday, December 2nd, 2018
Saturday, November 10th, 2018
Webmentions at Indie Web Camp Berlin
I was in Berlin for most of last week, and every day was packed with activity:
- Indie Web Camp on Saturday and Sunday,
- Accessibility Club on Monday,
- Beyond Tellerrand on Tuesday and Wednesday.
By the time I got back to Brighton, my brain was full …just in time for FF Conf.
All of the events were very different, but equally enjoyable. It was also quite nice to just attend events without speaking at them.
Indie Web Camp Berlin was terrific. There was an excellent turnout, and once again, I found that the format was just right: a day of discussions (BarCamp style) followed by a day of doing (coding, designing, hacking). I got very inspired on the first day, so I was raring to go on the second.
What I like to do on the second day is try to complete two tasks; one that’s fairly straightforward, and one that’s a bit tougher. That way, when it comes time to demo at the end of the day, even if I haven’t managed to complete the tougher one, I’ll still be able to demo the simpler one.
In this case, the tougher one was also tricky to demo. It involved a lot of invisible behind-the-scenes plumbing. I was tweaking my webmention endpoint (stop sniggering—tweaking your endpoint is no laughing matter).
Up until now, I could handle straightforward webmentions, and I could handle updates (if I receive more than one webmention from the same link, I check it each time). But I needed to also handle deletions.
The spec is quite clear on this. A 404 isn’t enough to trigger a deletion—that might be a temporary state. But a status of 410 Gone indicates that a resource was once here but has since been deliberately removed. In that situation, any stored webmentions for that link should also be removed.
Anyway, I think I got it working, but it’s tricky to test and even trickier to demo. “Not to worry”, I thought, “I’ve always got my simpler task.”
For that, I chose to add a little map to my homepage showing the last location I published something from. I’ve been geotagging all my content for years (journal entries, notes, links, articles), but not really doing anything with that data. This is a first step to doing something interesting with many years of location data.
I’ve got it working now, but the demo gods really weren’t with me at Indie Web Camp. Both of my demos failed. The webmention demo failed quite embarrassingly.
As well as handling deletions, I also wanted to handle updates where a URL that once linked to a post of mine no longer does. Just to be clear, the URL still exists—it’s not 404 or 410—but it has been updated to remove the original link back to one of my posts. I know this sounds like another very theoretical situation, but I’ve actually got an example of it on my very first webmention test post from five years ago. Believe it or not, there’s an escort agency in Nottingham that’s using webmention as a vector for spam. They post something that does link to my test post, send a webmention, and then remove the link to my test post. I almost admire their dedication.
Still, I wanted to foil this particular situation so I thought I had updated my code to handle it. Alas, when it came time to demo this, I was using someone else’s computer, and in my attempt to right-click and copy the URL of the spam link …I accidentally triggered it. In front of a room full of people. It was midly NSFW, but more worryingly, a potential Code Of Conduct violation. I’m very sorry about that.
Apart from the humiliating demo, I thoroughly enjoyed Indie Web Camp, and I’m going to keep adjusting my webmention endpoint. There was a terrific discussion around the ethical implications of storing webmentions, led by Sebastian, based on his epic post from earlier this year.
We established early in the discussion that we weren’t going to try to solve legal questions—like GDPR “compliance”, which varies depending on which lawyer you talk to—but rather try to figure out what the right thing to do is.
Earlier that day, during the introductions, I quite happily showed webmentions in action on my site. I pointed out that my last blog post had received a response from another site, and because that response was marked up as an h-entry, I displayed it in full on my site. I thought this was all hunky-dory, but now this discussion around privacy made me question some inferences I was making:
- By receiving a webention in the first place, I was inferring a willingness for the link to be made public. That’s not necessarily true, as someone pointed out: a CMS could be automatically sending webmentions, which the author might be unaware of.
- If the linking post is marked up in h-entry, I was inferring a willingness for the content to be republished. Again, not necessarily true.
That second inferrence of mine—that publishing in a particular format somehow grants permissions—actually has an interesting precedent: Google AMP. Simply by including the Google AMP script on a web page, you are implicitly giving Google permission to store a complete copy of that page and serve it from their servers instead of sending people to your site. No terms and conditions. No checkbox ticked. No “I agree” button pressed.
Anyway, when it comes to my own processing of webmentions, I’m going to take some of the suggestions from the discussion on board. There are certain signals I could be looking for in the linking post:
- Does it include a link to a licence?
- Is there a restrictive
- Are there
metadeclarations that say
Each one of these could help to infer whether or not I should be publishing a webmention or not. I quickly realised that what we’re talking about here is an algorithm.
Despite its current usage to mean “magic”, an algorithm is a recipe. It’s a series of steps that contribute to a decision point. The problem is that, in the case of silos like Facebook or Instagram, the algorithms are secret (which probably contributes to their aura of magical thinking). If I’m going to write an algorithm that handles other people’s information, I don’t want to make that mistake. Whatever steps I end up codifying in my webmention endpoint, I’ll be sure to document them publicly.
Thursday, September 13th, 2018
The map we need if we want to think about how global living conditions are changing - Our World in Data
While a geographical map is helpful if you want to find your way around the world, a population cartogram is the representation that we need if we want to know where our fellow humans are at home.
Sunday, May 6th, 2018
A beautiful visualisation of shipping routes and cargo. Mesmerising!
You can see movements of the global merchant fleet over the course of 2012, overlaid on a bathymetric map. You can also see a few statistics such as a counter for emitted CO2 (in thousand tonnes) and maximum freight carried by represented vessels (varying units).
Saturday, March 31st, 2018
Friday, March 30th, 2018
Hot nuclear blasts in your area.
(like Eric’s HYDEsim)
Wednesday, January 24th, 2018
This is a fascinating way to explore time and place—a spyglass view of hundred year old maps overlaid on the digital maps of today.
Wednesday, December 20th, 2017
A fascinating bit of cartographic reverse engineering, looking at how Google has an incredible level of satellite-delivered building detail that then goes into solving the design problem of marking “commercial corridors” (or Areas Of Interest) on their maps.
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Thursday, August 24th, 2017
I quite like this proposal for
geo element in HTML, especially that it has a fallback built in (like
video). I’m guessing the next step is to file an issue and create a web component to demonstrate how this could work.
That brings up another question: what do you name a custom element that you’d like to eventually become part of the spec? You can’t simply name it
geo because you have to include a hyphen.
Saturday, October 29th, 2016
When it seems like all our online activity is being tracked by Google, Facebook, and co., it comforts me to think of all the untracked usage out there, from shared (or fake) Facebook accounts to the good ol’ sneakernet:
Packets of information can be distributed via SMS and mobile 3G but also pieces of paper, USB sticks and Bluetooth.
Connectivity isn’t binary. Long live the papernet!
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016
In this English language alternative to latitude and longitude coordinates, the Clearleft office is located at: