A really nice open-source font-previewing tool for the Mac.
Tuesday, March 10th, 2020
Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020
Abolish Silicon Valley by Wendy Liu
I got an email a little while back from Michael at Repeater Books asking me if I wanted an advance copy of Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology From Capitalism by Wendy Liu. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I said “Sure!”
I’m happy to say that the book is most excellent …or at least mostly excellent.
Contrary to what the book title—or its blurb—might tell you, this is a memoir first and foremost. It’s a terrific memoir. It’s utterly absorbing.
Just as the most personal songs can have the most universal appeal, this story feels deeply personal while being entirely accessible. You don’t have to be a computer nerd to sympathise with the struggles of a twenty-something in a start-up trying to make sense of the world. This well-crafted narrative will resonate with any human. It calls to mind Ellen Ullman’s excellent memoir, Close to the Machine—not a comparison I make lightly.
But as you might have gathered from the book’s title, Abolish Silicon Valley isn’t being marketed as a memoir:
Abolish Silicon Valley is both a heartfelt personal story about the wasteful inequality of Silicon Valley, and a rallying call to engage in the radical politics needed to upend the status quo.
It’s true that the book finishes with a political manifesto but that’s only in the final chapter or two. The majority of the book is the personal story, and just as well. Those last few chapters really don’t work in this setting. They feel tonally out of place.
Don’t get me wrong, the contents of those final chapters are right up my alley—they’re preaching to the converted here. But I think they would be better placed in their own publication. The heavily-researched academic style jars with the preceeding personal narrative.
Abolish Silicon Valley is 80% memoir and 20% manifesto. I worry that the marketing isn’t making that clear. It would be a shame if this great book didn’t find its audience.
The book will be released on April 14th. It’s available to pre-order now. I highly recommend doing just that. I think you’ll really enjoy it. But if you get mired down in the final few chapters, know that you can safely skip them.
Monday, February 24th, 2020
It may be the end of the world as we know it, but other worlds are possible.
Monday, January 6th, 2020
Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
Books I read in 2019
Once again, I tried to maintain a balance between fiction and non-fiction. It kinda worked.
Here, in order of reading, are the books I read in 2019. For calibration, anything with three stars or more means I enjoyed (and recommend) the book. I can be pretty stingy with my stars. That said…
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Kindred is a truly remarkable work. Technically it’s science fiction—time travel, specifically—but that’s really just the surface detail. This is a study of what makes us human, and an investigation into the uncomfortable reach of circumstance and culture. Superbly written and deeply empathic.
The Soul Of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder
This is a well-regarded book amongst people whose opinion I value. It’s also a Pulitzer prize winner. Strange, then, that I found it so unengaging. The prose is certainly written with gusto, but it all seems so very superficial to me. No matter how you dress it up, it’s a chronicle of a bunch of guys—and oh, boy, are they guys—making a commercial computer. Testosterone and solder—not my cup of tea.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
A thoroughly entertaining space adventure, although my favourite parts are the descriptions of the inner magic of mathematics. This is a short read too, so go ahead and give it a whirl. Recommended.
The Order Of Time by Carlo Rovelli
The writing is entertaining, sometimes arresting, though it definitely spills over into purple prose at times. As a meditation on the nature of time, it’s a thought-provoking read, but I think I prefer the gentler musings of James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Another highly-regarded book that I just couldn’t get into. That’s probably more down to me than the book. I can see how the writing is imaginative and immersive, but the end result—for me, at least—was no more than perfectly fine.
Reading this kind of reminded me of reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. They’re both perfectly fine books that were lavished with heaps of praise for their levels of imagination …which makes me think that people need to read more sci-fi and fantasy.
A Mind At Play: How Claude Shannon Invented The Information Age by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman
A terrific biography! Admittedly you’ll probably want to be interested in information theory in the first place, but how could you not?
This book could probably have been a little shorter without losing too much, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s a great companion to James Gleick’s The Information.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This is like the love child of Craig Mod and Umberto Eco …and I mean that in the nicest possible way. A thoroughly entertaining genre-crossing jaunt that isn’t going to stress you out. Fun!
Inferior: The True Power Of Women and the Science that Shows It by Angela Saini
Superbly researched and deftly crafted. This is an eye-opening journey into the cultural influences on experimental science.
Resilient Management by Lara Hogan
I’m getting kind of cross with Lara now. First she writes the definitive book on web performance. Then she writes the definitive book on public speaking (I’ve loaned it out so many times, I’ve lost track of it). Now she’s gone and written the definitive book on being a manager. It hardly seems fair!
Seriously, this book is remarkably practical, right from the get-go. And the one complaint I have about most management books—that they’re longer than they need to be—definitely doesn’t apply here. If your job involves managing humans in any way, read this book!
The Future Home Of The Living God by Louise Erdrich
There’s nothing wrong with this book, per se. But I think it’s situated too much in the shadow of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to stand on its own merits.
Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor
The second novella in the Binti series. Just as much fun as the first. I’m looking forward to reading the third and final book in the series.
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
I really enjoyed this evolutionary tale. It’s equal parts biology and philosophy. I will never look at cephalopods quite the same way again.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Just as entertaining as Robin’s first book, this has a fun vibe to it.
By pure coincidence, I followed Sourdough with…
To which Robin responded:
OMG I’m so glad these books presented themselves to you together—I think it’s a great pairing, too. And certainly, some of Ed’s writing about microbes was in my head as I was writing the novel!
I Contain Multitudes is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining work. You might not think you want to read a book all about microbes, but trust me, you do.
I stand by this appraisal:
They’re both such wonderful books—apart from the obvious microbial connection, there’s a refreshingly uncynical joy infusing the writing of each of them!
Rosewater by Tade Thompson
An first-contact novel with a difference. The setting, the characters, the writing—everything is vivid and immersive. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.
Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker
The sheer joy of the writing is infectious. If you’ve got some long-haul flights ahead of you, this is the perfect reading material.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
This has stayed with me. This is Ann Leckie’s first foray into more of a fantasy realm, and it’s just as great as her superb science fiction.
Internal consistency is key to world-building in works of fantasy, and this book has a deeply satisfying and believable system that is only gradually and partially revealed. Encore!
The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
This book has an unusual structure. At times, it’s like a masterclass in writing. At other times, it’s deeply personal. I don’t know quite how to classify it, but I like it!
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Brilliant, as expected. Some of the stories in here have stayed with me long after I finished reading them. If you haven’t already read this or Stories of Your Life and Others, you’re in for a real treat.
Is Exhalation quite as brilliant as Ted Chiang’s debut book of short stories? Maybe not. But that bar is so high as to be astronomical.
Now we just have to wait a few more decades for his third collection.
Motherfoclóir: Dispatches From A Not So Dead Language by Darach O’Séaghdha
I don’t know if this will be of any interest if you don’t already understand some Irish, but I found this to be good fun. There were times when an aside was repeated more than once, which made me wonder if the source material was originally scattered in other publications.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
An alternative history novel with a thought-provoking premise. The result is like a cross between Mercury 13 and Seveneves. There’s a dollop of wish fulfillment in here that feels like a guilty pleasure, but that’s no bad thing.
1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire by Rebecca Rideal
This is how you bring history to life! The style of writing feels much more like a historical novel than a dry academic work, but all of the events are relayed from contempary source material. The plague is suitably grim and disgusting; the sea battles are appropriately thrilling and frightening; the fire is unrelentingly devestating. I know that doesn’t sound like there’s much enjoyment to be had, but this is the best history book I’ve read in a while.
Helliconia Summer by Brian Aldiss
I know I joke about seeing pace layers everywhere but seriously, Brian Aldiss’s Heliconia series is all about pace layers. Each book deals with one point in time, where we’re concerned with the dynastic concerns of years and decades, but the really important story is happening on the scale of centuries and millennia as the seasons slowly change.
This one was just as good as Helliconia Spring and I’m looking forward to rounding out the series with Helliconia Winter.
The Canopy Of Time by Brian Aldiss
I decided to stay on a Brian Aldiss kick, and grabbed this pulpy collection of short stories. It’s not his best work, and there’s an unnecessary attempt to tie all the stories together into one narrative, but even a so-so Brian Aldiss book has got a weird and slightly haunting edge to it.
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
The sequel to The Calculating Stars and the last in the Lady Astronaut series. Good space-race entertainment.
Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
I’ve just picked up this sequel to Ninefox Gambit. So far it’s not as bewildering as the first book—where the bewilderment was part of its charm. I’m into it. But I won’t rate it till I’ve finished it.
Alright, time to pick my favourite fiction and non-fiction books of the year.
Certainly the best fiction book published this year was Ted Chiang’s Exhalation. But when it comes to the best book I’ve read this year, it’s got to be Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Hard to believe it’s forty years old—it’s shockingly relevant today.
As for the best non-fiction …this is really hard this year. So many great books: A Mind At Play, Inferior, 1666, Other Minds; I loved them all. But I think I’m going to have to give it to Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes.
Only 10 of the 26 books I read this year were by women. I need to work on redressing the balance in 2020.
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
On this day
Yesterday was the discussion day. Most of the attendees were seasoned indie web campers, so quite a few of the discussions went deep on some of the building blocks. It was a good opportunity to step back and reappraise technology decisions.
Today is the day for making, tinkering, fiddling, and hacking. I had a few different ideas of what to do, mostly around showing additional context on my blog posts. I could, for instance, show related posts—other blog posts (or links) that have similar tags attached to them.
But I decided that a nice straightforward addition would be to show a kind of “on this day” context. After all, I’ve been writing blog posts here for eighteen years now; chances are that if I write a blog post on any given day, there will be something in the archives from that same day in previous years.
So that’s what I’ve done. I’ll be demoing it shortly here at Indie Web Camp, but you can see it in action now. If you look at the page for this blog post, you should see a section at the end with the heading “Previously on this day”. There you’ll see links to other posts I’ve written on December 8th in years gone by.
It’s quite a mixed bag. There’s a post about when I used to have a webcam from sixteen years ago. There’s a report from the Flash On The Beach conference from thirteen years ago (I wrote that post while I was in Berlin). And five years ago, I was writing about markup patterns for web components.
I don’t know if anyone other than me will find this feature interesting (but as it’s my website, I don’t really care). Personally, I find it fascinating to see how my writing has changed, both in terms of subject matter and tone.
Needless to say, the further back in time you go, the more chance there is that the links in my blog posts will no longer work. That’s a real shame. But then it’s a pleasant surprise when I find something that I linked to that is still online after all this time. And I can take comfort from the fact that if anyone has ever linked to anything I’ve written on my website, then those links still work.
Tuesday, February 5th, 2019
Ire takes a deep dive into implementing an accessible tool tip.
Friday, December 28th, 2018
Books I read in 2018
I read twenty books in 2018, which is exactly the same amount as I read in 2017. Reflecting on that last year, I said “It’s not as many as I hoped.” It does seem like a meagre amount, but in my defence, some of the books I read this year were fairly hefty tomes.
I decided to continue my experiment from last year of alternating fiction and non-fiction books. That didn’t quite work out, but it makes for a good guiding principle.
In ascending reading order, these are the books I read in 2018…
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
I started this towards the end of 2017 and finished it at the start of 2018. A good sci-fi romp, but stretched out a little bit long.
Time Travel: A History by James Gleick
I really enjoyed this, but then, that’s hardly a surprise. The subject matter is tailor made for me. I don’t think this quite matches the brilliance of Gleick’s The Information, but I got a real kick out of it. A book dedicated to unearthing the archeology of a science-fiction concept is a truly fascinating idea. And it’s not just about time travel, per se—this is a meditation on the nature of time itself.
Traction by Gino Wickman
Andy was quite taken with this management book and purchased multiple copies for the Clearleft leadership team. I’ll refrain from rating it because it was more like a homework assignment than a book I would choose to read. It crystalises some good organisational advice into practical steps, but it probably could’ve been quite a bit shorter.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
It feels very unfair but inevitable to compare this to Ann Leckie’s amazing debut Imperial Radch series. It’s not in quite the same league, but it’s also not trying to be. This standalone book has a lighter tone. It’s a rollicking good sci-fi procedural. It may not be as mind-blowingly inventive as Ancillary Justice, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, with guest editor Juliet Ulman
This book is free to download so it’s rather excellent value for money. It alternates sci-fi short stories with essays. Personally, I would skip the essays—they’re all a bit too academic for my taste. But some of these stories are truly excellent. There’s a really nice flow to the collection: it begins in low Earth orbit, then expands out to the Mars, the asteroid belt, and beyond. Death on Mars by Madeline Ashby was a real standout for me.
The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle
For some reason, I was sent a copy of this book by an editor at Penguin Classics. I have no idea why, but thank you, Sam! This turned out to be a lot of fun. I had forgotten just how many classics of horror and sci-fi are the work of Richard Matheson. He probably wrote your favourite Twilight Zone episode. There’s a real schlocky enoyment to be had from snacking on these short stories, occassionally interspersed with genuinely disturbing moments and glimpses of beauty.
Close To The Machine: Technophilia And Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman
Lots of ’90s feels in this memoir. A lot of this still resonates today. It’s kind of fascinating to read it now with the knowledge of how this whole internet thing would end up going.
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
This gripped me from the start, and despite its many twisty strands, it managed to keep me with it all the way through. Maybe it’s a bit longer than it needs to be, and maybe some of the diversions don’t entirely work, but it makes up for that with its audaciousness. I still prefer Goneaway World, but any Nick Harkaway book is a must-read.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Terrific stuff. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got about one tenth of the story. The book charts a longer arc and provides much deeper social and political context.
Dawn by Octavia Butler
This is filled with interesting ideas, but the story never quite gelled for me. I’m not sure if I should continue with the rest of the Lilith’s Brood series. But there’s something compelling and unsettling in here.
Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Frustratingly inconsistent. Here’s my full review.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
I devoured these books back-to-back. The Fifth Season was terrific—packed to the brim with inventiveness. But neither The Obelisk Gate nor The Stone Sky quite did it for me. Maybe my expectations were set too high by that first installment. But The Broken Earth is still a fascinating and enjoyable series.
Programmed Inequality by Marie Hicks
I was really looking forward to this one, but I found its stiff academic style hard to get through. I still haven’t finished it. But I figure if I could read Sapiens through to the end, I can certainly manage this. The subject matter is certainly fascinating, and the research is really thorough, but I’m afraid the book is showing its thesis roots.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
This plays out its conceit well, and it’s a fun read, but it’s not quite a classic. It feels more like a Neil Gamain or Lauren Beukes page-turner than, say, a Margaret Atwood exploration. Definitely worth a read, though.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The world-building (or maybe it’s world rebuilding) is terrific. But once again, as is often the case with Kim Stanley Robinson, I find the plot to be lacking. This is not in the same league as Aurora. It’s more like 2312-on-sea. It’s frustrating. I’m torn between giving it three stars or four. I’m going to be generous because even though it’s not the best Kim Stanley Robinson book, it contains some of his best writing. There are passages that are breathtakingly good.
A Thread Across The Ocean by John Steele Gordon
After (temporarily) losing my library copy of New York 2140, I picked this up in a bookstore in Charlottesville so I’d have something to read during my stay there. I was very glad I did. I really, really enjoyed this. It’s all about the transatlantic telegraphic cable, so if that’s your thing—as it is mine—you’re going to enjoy this. It makes a great companion piece to Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet. Come for the engineering, stay for the nautical tales of derring-do.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Not as disturbing as the Southern Reach Trilogy, but equally unsettling in its own way. Shades of Oryx and Crake, but in a more fantastically surreal setting.
The Airs Of Earth by Brian Aldiss
A good collection of short stories from the master of sci-fi. I’ve got a backlog of old pulpy paperback Aldiss collections like this that make for good snackfood for the mind.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
A Christmas present from my brother-in-law. I just cracked this open, so you’ll have to come back next year to find out how it fared.
Alright. Now it’s time to pick the winners.
I think the best fiction book I read this year was Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon.
For non-fiction, it’s a tough call. I really enjoyed Hidden Figures and A Thread Across The Ocean, but I think I’m going to have to give the top spot to James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History.
But there were no five star books this year. Maybe that will change in 2019. And maybe I’ll read more books next year, too. We’ll see.
In 2017, seven of the twenty books I read were by women. In 2018, it was nine out of twenty (not counting anthologies). That’s better, but I want keep that trajectory going in 2019.
Well, this an interesting format experiment—the latest Black Mirror just dropped, and it’s a PDF.
Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018
This long zoom by Andy is right up my alley—a history of UX design that begins in 1880. It’s not often that you get to read something that includes Don Norman, Doug Engelbart, Lilian Gilbreth, and Vladimir Lenin. So good!
Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
I finally got around to reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s one of those books that I kept hearing about from smart people whose opinions I respect. But I have to say, my reaction to the book reminded me of when I read Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist:
It was an exasperating read.
At first, I found the book to be a rollicking good read. It told the sweep of history in an engaging way, backed up with footnotes and references to prime sources. But then the author transitions from relaying facts to taking flights of fancy without making any distinction between the two (the only “tell” is that the references dry up).
Just as Matt Ridley had personal bugbears that interrupted the flow of The Rational Optimist, Yuval Noah Harari has fixated on some ideas that make a mess of the narrative arc of Sapiens. In particular, he believes that the agricultural revolution was, as he describes it, “history’s biggest fraud.” In the absence of any recorded evidence for this, he instead provides idyllic descriptions of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that have as much foundation in reality as the paleo diet.
When the book avoids that particular historical conspiracy theory, it fares better. But even then, the author seems to think he’s providing genuinely new insights into matters of religion, economics, and purpose, when in fact, he’s repeating the kind of “college thoughts” that have been voiced by anyone who’s ever smoked a spliff.
I know I’m making it sound terrible, and it’s not terrible. It’s just …generally not that great. And when it is great, it only makes the other parts all the more frustrating. There’s a really good book in Sapiens, but unfortunately it’s interspersed with some pretty bad editorialising. I have to agree with Galen Strawson’s review:
Much of Sapiens is extremely interesting, and it is often well expressed. As one reads on, however, the attractive features of the book are overwhelmed by carelessness, exaggeration and sensationalism.
Towards the end of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari casts his eye on our present-day world and starts to speculate on the future. This is the point when I almost gave myself an injury with the amount of eye-rolling I was doing. His ideas on technology, computers, and even science fiction are embarrassingly childish and incomplete. And the bad news is that his subsequent books—Home Deus and 21 Lessons For The 21st Century—are entirely speculations about humanity and technology. I won’t be touching those with all the ten foot barge poles in the world.
In short, although there is much to enjoy in Sapiens, particularly in the first few chapters, I can’t recommend it.
If you’re looking for a really good book on the fascinating history of our species, read A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford . That’s one I can recommend without reservation.
Thursday, August 16th, 2018
This is such a lovely, lovely review from Marc!
Jeremy’s way of writing certainly helps, as a specialised or technical book on a topic like Service Workers, could certainly be one, that bores you to death with dry written explanations. But Jeremy has a friendly, fresh and entertaining way of writing books. Sometimes I caught myself with a grin on my face…
Tuesday, August 14th, 2018
I strongly recommend that you read Going Offline by Jeremy Keith. Before his book, I found the concept of service workers quite daunting and convinced myself that it’s one of those things that I’ll have to set aside a big chunk of time to learn. I got through Jeremy’s book in a few hours and felt confident and inspired. This is because he’s very good at explaining concepts in a friendly, concise manner.
Friday, August 3rd, 2018
This is an interesting tool: mess around with styles on any site inside Chrome’s dev tools, and then hit a button to have the updated styles saved to a URL (a Gist on Github).
Wednesday, July 4th, 2018
This is a lovely review of Going Offline from Garrett:
With his typical self-effacing humour (chapter titles include Making Fetch Happen and Cache Me If You Can), and easy manner, Jeremy explains how Service Workers, uh, work, the clever things you can do with them, and most importantly, how to build your own.
Best of all, he’s put it into action!
To that end, this site now has its own home-grown, organic, corn fed, Service Worker.
Monday, June 18th, 2018
Praise for Going Offline
People have been saying nice things on their blogs, which is very gratifying. It’s even more gratifying to see people use the knowledge gained from reading the book to turn those blogs into progressive web apps!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a designer, a junior developer or an experienced engineer — this book is perfect for anyone who wants to learn about Service Workers and take their Web application to a whole new level.
I highly recommend it. I read the book over the course of two days, but it can easily be read in half a day. And as someone who rarely ever reads a book cover to cover (I tend to quit halfway through most books), this says a lot about how good it is.
I was delighted to discover a straightforward, very approachable reference on designing a ServiceWorker-backed application: Going Offline by Jeremy Keith. The book is short (I’m busy), direct (“Here’s a problem, here’s how to solve it“), opinionated in the best way (landmine-avoiding “Do this“), and humorous without being confusing. As anyone who has received unsolicited (or solicited) feedback from me about their book knows, I’m an extremely picky reader, and I have no significant complaints on this one. Highly recommended.
If you’re interested in the “offline first” movement or want to learn more about Service Workers, Going Offline by Jeremy Keith is a really gentle and highly accessible introduction to the topic.
Jeremy nails it again with this beginner-friendly introduction to Service Workers and Progressive Web Apps.
Jeremy’s technical writing is as superb as always. Similar to his first book for A Book Apart, which cleared up all my confusions about HTML5, Going Offline helps me put the pieces of the service workers’ puzzle together.
People have been saying nice things on Twitter too…
It’s a fantastic read and a simple primer for getting Service Workers up and running on your site.
Of course, if you’re looking to take your website offline, you should read @adactio’s wonderful book
Ok, I’m done reading @adactio’s Going Offline book and as my wife would say, it’s the bomb dot com.
If that all sounds good to you, get yourself a copy of Going Offline in paperbook, or ebook (or both).
Thursday, May 10th, 2018
Monday, April 30th, 2018
Here’s a great even-handed in-depth review of Going Offline:
Saturday, April 28th, 2018
A short’n’sweet review of Going Offline:
Jeremy nails it again with this beginner-friendly introduction to Service Workers and Progressive Web Apps. The foreword to the book says “you’ll gain a solid understanding of how to put this new technology to work for you right away” and I’d say that is very accurate.
Wednesday, April 25th, 2018
Jeremy’s technical writing is as superb as always. Similar to his first book for A Book Apart, which cleared up all my confusions about HTML5, Going Offline helps me put the pieces of the service workers’ puzzle together.