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Monday, April 8th, 2019

Why you should learn vanilla JS first | Go Make Things

Frameworks (arguably) make building complex applications easier, but they make doing simple stuff more complex.

And that’s why I think people should learn vanilla JS first. I’ve had many students who tried to learn frameworks get frustated, quit, and focus on vanilla JS.

Some of them have gone back to frameworks later, and told me that knowing vanilla JS made it a lot easier for them to pick up frameworks afterwards.

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

Homework I Gave Web Designers - Cloud Four

This is such a great excercise for teaching the separation of structure and presentation—I could imagine using something like this at Codebar.

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

Going Offline—the talk of the book

I gave a new talk at An Event Apart in Seattle yesterday morning. The talk was called Going Offline, which the eagle-eyed amongst you will recognise as the title of my most recent book, all about service workers.

I was quite nervous about this talk. It’s very different from my usual fare. Usually I have some big sweeping arc of history, and lots of pretentious ideas joined together into some kind of narrative arc. But this talk needed to be more straightforward and practical. I wasn’t sure how well I would manage that brief.

I knew from pretty early on that I was going to show—and explain—some code examples. Those were the parts I sweated over the most. I knew I’d be presenting to a mixed audience of designers, developers, and other web professionals. I couldn’t assume too much existing knowledge. At the same time, I didn’t want to teach anyone to such eggs.

In the end, there was an overarching meta-theme to talk, which was this: logic is more important than code. In other words, figuring out what you’re trying to accomplish (and describing it clearly) is more important than typing curly braces and semi-colons. Programming is an act of translation. Before you can translate something, you need to be able to articulate it clearly in your own language first. By emphasising that point, I hoped to make the code less overwhelming to people unfamilar with it.

I had tested the talk with some of my Clearleft colleagues, and they gave me great feedback. But I never know until I’ve actually given a talk in front of a real conference audience whether the talk is any good or not. Now that I’ve given the talk, and received more feedback, I think I can confidentally say that it’s pretty damn good.

My goal was to explain some fairly gnarly concepts—let’s face it: service workers are downright weird, and not the easiest thing to get your head around—and to leave the audience with two feelings:

  1. This is exciting, and
  2. This is something I can do today.

I deliberately left time for questions, bribing people with free copies of my book. I got some great questions, and I may incorporate some of them into future versions of this talk (conference organisers, if this sounds like the kind of talk you’d like at your event, please get in touch). Some of the points brought up in the questions were:

  • Is there some kind of wizard for creating a typical service worker script for any site? I didn’t have a direct answer to this, but I have attempted to make a minimal viable service worker that could be used for just about any site. Mostly I encouraged the questioner to roll their sleeves up and try writing a bespoke script. I also mentioned the Workbox library, but I gave my opinion that if you’re going to spend the time to learn the library, you may as well spend the time to learn the underlying language.
  • What are some state-of-the-art progressive web apps for offline user experiences? Ooh, this one kind of stumped me. I mean, the obvious poster children for progressive webs apps are things like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. They’re all great but the offline experience is somewhat limited. To be honest, I think there’s more potential for great offline experiences by publishers. I especially love the pattern on personal sites like Una’s and Sara’s where people can choose to save articles offline to read later—like a bespoke Instapaper or Pocket. I’d love so see that pattern adopted by some big publications. I particularly like that gives so much more control directly to the end user. Instead of trying to guess what kind of offline experience they want, we give them the tools to craft their own.
  • Do caches get cleaned up automatically? Great question! And the answer is mostly no—although browsers do have their own heuristics about how much space you get to play with. There’s a whole chapter in my book about being a good citizen and cleaning up your caches, but I didn’t include that in the talk because it isn’t exactly exciting: “Hey everyone! Now we’re going to do some housekeeping—yay!”
  • Isn’t there potential for abuse here? This is related to the previous question, and it’s another great question to ask of any technology. In short, yes. Bad actors could use service workers to fill up caches uneccesarily. I’ve written about back door service workers too, although the real problem there is with iframes rather than service workers—iframes and cookies are technologies that are already being abused by bad actors, and we’re going to see more and more interventions by ethical browser makers (like Mozilla) to clamp down on those technologies …just as browsers had to clamp down on the abuse of pop-up windows in the early days of JavaScript. The cache API could become a tragedy of the commons. I liken the situation to regulation: we should self-regulate, but if we prove ourselves incapable of that, then outside regulation (by browsers) will be imposed upon us.
  • What kind of things are in the future for service workers? Excellent question! If you think about it, a service worker is kind of a conduit that gives you access to different APIs: the Cache API and the Fetch API being the main ones now. A service worker is like an airport and the APIs are like the airlines. There are other APIs that you can access through service workers. Notifications are available now on desktop and on Android, and they’ll be coming to iOS soon. Background Sync is another powerful API accessed through service workers that will get more and more browser support over time. The great thing is that you can start using these APIs today even if they aren’t universally supported. Then, over time, more and more of your users will benefit from those enhancements.

If you attended the talk and want to learn more about about service workers, there’s my book (obvs), but I’ve also written lots of blog posts about service workers and I’ve linked to lots of resources too.

Finally, here’s a list of links to all the books, sites, and articles I referenced in my talk…

Books

Sites

Progressive Web Apps

How to become a “Designer who Codes” – Medium

This is such excellent advice for anyone starting out in front-end development:

  1. Get comfortable with the naked internet (sorry, not THAT naked internet)
  2. Build yourself some nice little one-column websites
  3. Learn about layout
  4. Make it work on phones
  5. Make it dynamic

(I would just love it if Meagan were posting this on her own incredibly beautiful website rather than on Ev’s blog.)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Using CSS Grid the right way | hey it’s violet

CSS Grid is easy to use but difficult to learn. It’s a more intuitive paradigm than any other CSS layout technique, but it’s completely different from its predecessors.

Some great advice here on how to approach CSS grid:

  • Use names, not numbers
  • Use fr as your flexible unit
  • Don’t use a grid system

Friday, February 1st, 2019

New Adventures 2019 | Part Two: Progressive Web | Abstrakt

Here’s a thorough blow-by-blow account of the workshop I ran in Nottingham last week:

Jeremy’s workshop was a fascinating insight into resilience and how to approach a web project with ubiquity and consistency in mind from both a design and development point of view.

Readable Code without Prescription Glasses | Ocasta

I saw Daniel give a talk at Async where he compared linguistic rules with code style:

We find the prescriptive rules hard to follow, irrespective of how complex they are, because they are invented, arbitrary, and often go against our intuition. The descriptive rules, on the other hand, are easy to follow because they are instinctive. We learned to follow them as children by listening to, analysing and mimicking speech, armed with an inbuilt concept of the basic building blocks of grammar. We follow them subconsciously, often without even knowing the rules exists.

Thus began some thorough research into trying to uncover a universal grammar for readable code:

I am excited by the possibility of discovering descriptive readability rules, and last autumn I started an online experiment to try and find some. My experiment on howreadable.com compared various coding patterns against each other in an attempt to objectively measure their readability. I haven’t found any strong candidates for prescriptive rules so far, but the results are promising and suggest a potential way forward.

I highly recommend reading through this and watching the video of the Async talk (and conference organisers; get Daniel on your line-up!).

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

The Return of New Adventures

Westley came along to my workshop at New Adventures …and liked it! (phew!)

I have long been a proponent of progressive enhancement on the web, perhaps before I knew the true value of it to the people that use the things we build for the web, but Jeremy has always been able to expand my understanding of its importance in the wider scope of things, how it inherently builds resilience into your products, and how it makes it more widely available to people across the world, in vastly different scenarios. The workshop itself was fluid enough to cater to the topics that the attendees were interested in; from over-arching philosophy to technical detail around service workers and new APIs. It has helped me to understand that learning in this kind of environment doesn’t have to be rigorously structured, and can be shaped as the day progresses.

Read on to discover how I incorporated time travel into the day’s activities.

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Learn Vanilla JS

Chris Ferdinandi is a machine!

A vanilla JS roadmap, along with learning resources and project ideas to help you get started.

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Teaching a Correct CSS Mental Model

One facet of this whole CSS debate involves one side saying, “Just learn CSS” and the other side responding, “That’s what I’ve been trying to do!”

I think it’s high time we the teachers of CSS start discussing how exactly we can teach a correct mental model. How do we, in specific and practical ways, help developers get past this point of frustration. Because we have not figured out how to properly teach a mental model of CSS.

Friday, December 7th, 2018

How Readable? | Clearleft

Cassie and I went to a great Async talk last night all about code readability, which was well-timed because it’s been on our minds all week. Cassie explains more in this post.

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

Tutorial Markdown

Tim recently gave an excellent talk at FFConf. He mentioned this variation of Markdown, specifically for writing coding tutorials that update as you scroll. You can see it in action on his Generative Artistry site.

Kind of reminds of some of Bret Viktor’s work.

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Monday, October 15th, 2018

We are Oxvik

Ooh, this is an exciting collaboration! Jon and Brian have teamed up to form a lovely little cooperative.

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

as days pass by — Inside out

A very thoughtful post from Stuart, ostensibly about “view source”, but really about empowerment, choice, and respect.

I like that the web is made up of separate bits that you can see if you want to. You can understand how it works by piecing together the parts. It’s not meant to be a sealed unit, an appliance which does what the owner wants it to and restricts everything else. That’s what apps do. The web’s better than that.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Accessibility for Teams

I really, really like the way that this straightforward accessibility guide is subdivided by discipline. As Maya wrote in the blog post announcing its launch:

Each person on a team, whether you’re a manager, designer, or developer, has a role to play. Your responsibilities are different depending on your role. So that’s how we structured the guide, with a separate section for each of five roles:

  • Product management
  • Content design
  • UX design
  • Visual design
  • Front-end development

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

BBC Computer Literacy Project Archive

Here’s a treasure trove of eighties nerd nostalgia:

In the 1980s, the BBC explored the world of computing in The Computer Literacy Project. They commissioned a home computer (the BBC Micro) and taught viewers how to program.

The Computer Literacy Project chronicled a decade of information technology and was a milestone in the history of computing in Britain, helping to inspire a generation of coders.

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

Yay Computers • Robin Rendle

If you’re thinking of writing something that explains a weird thing you struggled with on the Internet, do it! Don’t worry about the views and likes and Internet hugs. If you’ve struggled with figuring out this thing then be sure to jot it down, even if it’s unedited and it uses too many commas and you don’t like the tone of it.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

Manual Aspire

If only all documentation was as great as this old manual for the ZX Spectrum that Remy uncovered:

The manual is an instruction book on how to program the Spectrum. It’s a full book, with detailed directions and information on how the machine works, how the programming language works, includes human readable sentences explaining logic and even goes so far as touching on what hex values perform which assembly functions.

When we talk about things being “inspiring”, it’s rarely in regards to computer manuals. But, damn, if this isn’t inspiring!

This book stirs a passion inside of me that tells me that I can make something new from an existing thing. It reminds me of the 80s Lego boxes: unlike today’s Lego, the back of a Lego box would include pictures of creations that you could make with your Lego set. It didn’t include any instructions to do so, but it always made me think to myself: “I can make something more with these bricks”.

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Brendan Dawes - Holding the Door Open for Others

I continue to write stuff down on my little corner of the Web (does it have corners?) and I encourage you to do the same, as all these little bits of flotsam and jetsam become something a lot lot bigger.