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Saturday, August 10th, 2019

Server Timing

Harry wrote a really good article all about the performance measurement Time To First Byte. Time To First Byte: What It Is and Why It Matters:

While a good TTFB doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a fast website, a bad TTFB almost certainly guarantees a slow one.

Time To First Byte has been the chink in my armour over at thesession.org, especially on the home page. Every time I ran Lighthouse, or some other performance testing tool, I’d get a high score …with some points deducted for taking too long to get that first byte from the server.

Harry’s proposed solution is to set up some Server Timing headers:

With a little bit of extra work spent implementing the Server Timing API, we can begin to measure and surface intricate timings to the front-end, allowing web developers to identify and debug potential bottlenecks previously obscured from view.

I rememberd that Drew wrote an excellent article on Smashing Magazine last year called Measuring Performance With Server Timing:

The job of Server Timing is not to help you actually time activity on your server. You’ll need to do the timing yourself using whatever toolset your backend platform makes available to you. Rather, the purpose of Server Timing is to specify how those measurements can be communicated to the browser.

He even provides some PHP code, which I was able to take wholesale and drop into the codebase for thesession.org. Then I was able to put start/stop points in my code for measuring how long some operations were taking. Then I could output the results of these measurements into Server Timing headers that I could inspect in the “Network” tab of a browser’s dev tools (Chrome is particularly good for displaying Server Timing, so I used that while I was conducting this experiment).

I started with overall database requests. Sure enough, that was where most of the time in time-to-first-byte was being spent.

Then I got more granular. I put start/stop points around specific database calls. By doing this, I was able to zero in on which operations were particularly costly. Once I had done that, I had to figure out how to make the database calls go faster.

Spoiler: I did it by adding an extra index on one particular table. It’s almost always indexes, in my experience, that make the biggest difference to database performance.

I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to messing with Server Timing headers. It has paid off in spades. I wish I had done it sooner.

And now thesession.org is positively zipping along!

Friday, August 9th, 2019

Time to First Byte: What It Is and Why It Matters by Harry Roberts

Harry takes a deep dive into the performance metric of “time to first byte”, or TTFB if you using initialisms that take as long to say as the thing they’re abbreviating.

This makes a great companion piece to Drew’s article on server timing headers.

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

How to test vanilla JS performance | Go Make Things

Did you know about console.time() and console.timeEnd()? I did not.

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Pseudo Code | CSS-Tricks

I find myself doing pseudo code before I write real code, sure, but I also leave it in place sometimes in code comments.

Same!

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

Intrinsically Responsive CSS Grid with minmax() and min()

When min() gets better support (it’s currently in Safari), we’ll be able to create container queryish declarations like this:

grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fill, minmax(min(10rem, 100%), 1fr));

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

Chaos Design: Before the robots take our jobs, can we please get them to help us do some good work?

This is a great piece! It starts with a look back at some of the great minds of the nineteenth century: Herschel, Darwin, Babbage and Lovelace. Then it brings us, via JCR Licklider, to the present state of the web before looking ahead to what the future might bring.

So what will the life of an interface designer be like in the year 2120? or 2121 even? A nice round 300 years after Babbage first had the idea of calculations being executed by steam.

I think there are some missteps along the way (I certainly don’t think that inline styles—AKA CSS in JS—are necessarily a move forwards) but I love the idea of applying chaos engineering to web design:

Think of every characteristic of an interface you depend on to not ‘fail’ for your design to ‘work.’ Now imagine if these services were randomly ‘failing’ constantly during your design process. How might we design differently? How would our workflows and priorities change?

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!

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Julio Biason .Net 4.0 - Things I Learnt The Hard Way (in 30 Years of Software Development)

Lots and lots of programming advice. I can’t attest to the veracity and efficacy of all of it, but this really rang true:

If you have no idea how to start, describe the flow of the application in high level, pure English/your language first. Then fill the spaces between comments with the code.

And this:

Blogging about your stupid solution is still better than being quiet.

You may feel “I’m not start enough to talk about this” or “This must be so stupid I shouldn’t talk about it”.

Create a blog. Post about your stupid solutions.

BBC World Service - 13 Minutes to the Moon

I’ve been huffduffing every episode of this terrific podcast from Kevin Fong. It features plenty of my favourite Apollo people: Mike Collins, Margaret Hamilton, and Charlie Duke.

Monday, June 17th, 2019

A Complete Beginner’s Guide to React by Ali Spittel

This really is a most excellent introduction to React. Complete with cheat sheet!

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

7 absolute truths I unlearned as junior developer

This is a wonderfully written post packed with hard-won wisdom.

This are the myths that Monica dispelled for herself:

  1. I’m a senior developer
  2. Everyone writes tests
  3. We’re so far behind everyone else (AKA “tech FOMO”)
  4. Code quality matters most
  5. Everything must be documented!!!!
  6. Technical debt is bad
  7. Seniority means being the best at programming

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Breaking the physical limits of fonts

This broke my brain.

The challenge: in the fewest resources possible, render meaningful text.

  • How small can a font really go?
  • How many bytes of memory would you need (to store it and run it?)
  • How much code would it take to express it?

Lets see just how far we can take this!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Mornington Crescent - Esolang

A (possibly) Turing complete language:

As the validity and the semantics of a program depend on the structure of the London underground system, which is administered by London Underground Ltd, a subsidiary of Transport for London, who are likely unaware of the existence of this programming language, its future compatibility is uncertain. Programs may become invalid or subtly wrong as the transport company expands or retires some of the network, reroutes lines or renames stations. Features may be removed with no prior consultation with the programming community. For all we know, Mornington Crescent itself may at some point be closed, at which point this programming language will cease to exist.

Monday, June 10th, 2019

The CSS Mindset | Max Böck - Frontend Web Developer

This post absolutely nails what’s special about CSS …and why supersmart programmers might have trouble wrapping their head around it:

Other programming languages often work in controlled environments, like servers. They expect certain conditions to be true at all times, and can therefore be understood as concrete instructions as to how a program should execute.

CSS on the other hand works in a place that can never be fully controlled, so it has to be flexible by default.

Max goes on to encapsulate years of valuable CSS learnings into some short and snappy pieces of advices:

No matter what your level of CSS knowledge, this post has something for you—highly recommended!

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

German Naming Convention

Don’t write fopen when you can write openFile. Write throwValidationError and not throwVE. Call that name function and not fct. That’s German naming convention. Do this and your readers will appreciate it.

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

JAMstack? More like SHAMstack. | CSS-Tricks

Chris makes the very good point that the J in JAMstack isn’t nearly as important as the static hosting part.

I also pointed out to Phil recently that the M (markup) is far more important than the J (JavaScript), which is there to enhance the M. So I suggested that the acronym be updated accordingly:

MAJstack!

This is my maj.

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Night Mode with Mix Blend Mode: Difference

Here’s a clever shortcut to creating a dark mode by using mix-blend-mode: difference.

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Playdate. A New Handheld Gaming System

Well, this is interesting. Panic, the little software company that could, are making a handheld gaming device. This is like the hardware equivalent of the indie web.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Progressive Font Enrichment: reinventing web font performance | Responsive Web Typography

Jason describes the next big thing in web typography: streaming fonts!

…to enable the ability for only the required part of the font be downloaded on any given page, and for subsequent requests for that font to dynamically ‘patch’ the original download with additional sets of glyphs as required on successive page views—even if they occur on separate sites.

Monday, April 29th, 2019

Naming things to improve accessibility

Some good advice from Hidde, based on his recent talk Six ways to make your site more accessible.