Tags: technology

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Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Neodymium – Popula

Magnets: How Do They Work?

Magnetism might be the most romantic of all the topics in science to be metaphorically butchered by poets.

General Magic

A forthcoming documentary about the company spun out of Apple to create a handheld communication device …in 1990.

From mobile computing, social media, downloadable apps and e-commerce to touchscreens, emoji and USB, the products and services that now dominate the tech industry and our day-to-day lives were born at General Magic.

How Do We Keep Up? What Happens if CSS Grid Changes? - YouTube

Another great video from Jen as part of her Layout Land series. This time she addresses the question of the overwhelming technology landscape for developers and where they should invest their time.

She references my most recent talk, where I’ve been drawing a distinction between “materials” (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and “tools” (everything else).

What if CSS Grid Changes?

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.

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

Unchained: A story of love, loss, and blockchain - MIT Technology Review

A near-future sci-fi short by Hannu Rajaniemi that’s right on the zeitgest money.

The app in her AR glasses showed the car icon crawling along the winding forest road. In a few minutes, it would reach the sharp right turn where the road met the lake. The turn was marked by a road sign she had carefully defaced the previous day, with tiny dabs of white paint. Nearly invisible to a human, they nevertheless fooled image recognition nets into classifying the sign as a tree.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Disturbances #16: Digital Dust

From smart dust and spimes, through to online journaling and social media, to machine learning, big data and digital preservation…

Is the archive where information goes to live forever, or where data goes to die?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

A better metaphor for technology - The Verge

The ideas and images that come to mind when you think of technology as an instrument are more useful than if you think of it as a tool. Instruments — I’m specifically talking about musical instruments — are a way to create culture.

You approach instruments with a set of expectations and associations that are more humane. It’s built into their very purpose. Instruments are meant to make something for other people, not making things. When you use an instrument, you have an expectation that it is going to take effort to use it well. Using an instrument takes practice. You form a relationship with that object. It becomes part of your identity that you make something with it. You tune it. You understand that there’s no such thing as a “best” guitar in the same way that there’s not necessarily a “best” phone.

Ways to think about machine learning — Benedict Evans

This strikes me as a sensible way of thinking about machine learning: it’s like when we got relational databases—suddenly we could do more, quicker, and easier …but it doesn’t require us to treat the technology like it’s magic.

An important parallel here is that though relational databases had economy of scale effects, there were limited network or ‘winner takes all’ effects. The database being used by company A doesn’t get better if company B buys the same database software from the same vendor: Safeway’s database doesn’t get better if Caterpillar buys the same one. Much the same actually applies to machine learning: machine learning is all about data, but data is highly specific to particular applications. More handwriting data will make a handwriting recognizer better, and more gas turbine data will make a system that predicts failures in gas turbines better, but the one doesn’t help with the other. Data isn’t fungible.

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Cory Doctorow: Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags – Locus Online

Facebook doesn’t have a mind-control problem, it has a corruption problem. Cambridge Analytica didn’t convince decent people to become racists; they convinced racists to become voters.

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.

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Should computers serve humans, or should humans serve computers? | Read the Tea Leaves

Between the utopian and dystopian, which vision of the future seems more likely to you? Which vision seems more true to how we currently live with technology, in the form of our smartphones and social media apps?

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

Derek Powazek - AI is Not a Community Management Strategy

A really excellent piece from Derek on the history of community management online.

You have to decide what your platform is for and what it’s not for. And, yeah, that means deciding who it’s for and who it’s not for (hint: it’s not bots, nor nazis). That’s not a job you can outsource. The tech won’t do it for you. Not just because it’s your job, but because outsourcing it won’t work. It never does.

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

[Essay] Known Unknowns | New Dark Age by James Bridle | Harper’s Magazine

A terrific cautionary look at the history of machine learning and artificial intelligence from the new laugh-a-minute book by James.

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Artificial Intelligence for more human interfaces | Christian Heilmann

An even-handed assessment of the benefits and dangers of machine learning.

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

I dunno | Brad Frost

I think being simultaneously curious and skeptical of new technology is healthy attitude to have.

I concur.

I want to learn new things in order to keep making good websites. I also think there’s a lot of value in talking about the difficulty in learning new things.

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Know your ARIA: ‘Hidden’ vs ‘None’ | scottohara.me

When to use aria-hidden="true", and when you might need display: none:

aria-hidden by itself is not enough to completely hide an element from all users, if that is the end goal.

When to use role="presentation" (or role="none"):

Where aria-hidden can be used to completely hide content from assistive technology, modifying an element’s role to “none” or “presentation” removes the semantics of the element, but does not hide the content from assistive technologies.

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

The Amish understand a life-changing truth about technology the rest of us don’t — Quartz

The headline is terrible but this interview is an insightful look at evaluating technology.

I remember Kevin Kelly referring to the Amish as “slow geeks”, and remarking that we could all become a little more amish-ish.

It’s not that the Amish view technology as inherently evil. No rules prohibit them from using new inventions. But they carefully consider how each one will change their culture before embracing it. And the best clue as to what will happen comes from watching their neighbors.

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

The Tarot Cards Of Tech

A useful set of questions to ask on any project, shuffled and dealt to you.

They’ll not only help you foresee unintended consequences—they can also reveal opportunities for positive change.

All of the content in images. Not a single image has alternative text. If only they had asked themselves:

When you picture your user base, who is excluded? If they used your product, what would their experience be like?

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Design systems and technological disruption – The Man in Blue

Almost every technological innovation over the last 300 years has had side effects which actually increase the number of opportunities for employment. The general trend is that the easier something is to do, the more demand there is for it.

Cameron looks at the historical effects of automation and applies that to design systems. The future he sees is one of increased design democratisation and participation.

This is actually something that designers have been championing for decades – inclusive design at all levels of the company, and an increase in design thinking at all stages of product development. Now that we finally have a chance of achieving that it’s not a time to be scared. It’s a time to be celebrated.

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Frustration

I had some problems with my bouzouki recently. Now, I know my bouzouki pretty well. I can navigate the strings and frets to make music. But this was a problem with the pickup under the saddle of the bouzouki’s bridge. So it wasn’t so much a musical problem as it was an electronics problem. I know nothing about electronics.

I found it incredibly frustrating. Not only did I have no idea how to fix the problem, but I also had no idea of the scope of the problem. Would it take five minutes or five days? Who knows? Not me.

My solution to a problem like this is to pay someone else to fix it. Even then I have to go through the process of having the problem explained to me by someone who understands and cares about electronics much more than me. I nod my head and try my best to look like I’m taking it all in, even though the truth is I have no particular desire to get to grips with the inner workings of pickups—I just want to make some music.

That feeling of frustration I get from having wiring issues with a musical instrument is the same feeling I get whenever something goes awry with my web server. I know just enough about servers to be dangerous. When something goes wrong, I feel very out of my depth, and again, I have no idea how long it will take the fix the problem: minutes, hours, days, or weeks.

I had a very bad day yesterday. I wanted to make a small change to the Clearleft website—one extra line of CSS. But the build process for the website is quite convoluted (and clever), automatically pulling in components from the site’s pattern library. Something somewhere in the pipeline went wrong—I still haven’t figured out what—and for a while there, the Clearleft website was down, thanks to me. (Luckily for me, Danielle saved the day …again. I’d be lost without her.)

I was feeling pretty down after that stressful day. I felt like an idiot for not knowing or understanding the wiring beneath the site.

But, on the other hand, considering I was only trying to edit a little bit of CSS, maybe the problem didn’t lie entirely with me.

There’s a principle underlying the architecture of the World Wide Web called The Rule of Least Power. It somewhat counterintuitively states that you should:

choose the least powerful language suitable for a given purpose.

Perhaps, given the relative simplicity of the task I was trying to accomplish, the plumbing was over-engineered. That complexity wouldn’t matter if I could circumvent it, but without the build process, there’s no way to change the markup, CSS, or JavaScript for the site.

Still, most of the time, the build process isn’t a hindrance, it’s a help: concatenation, minification, linting and all that good stuff. Most of my frustration when something in the wiring goes wrong is because of how it makes me feel …just like with the pickup in my bouzouki, or the server powering my website. It’s not just that I find this stuff hard, but that I also feel like it’s stuff I’m supposed to know, rather than stuff I want to know.

On that note…

Last week, Paul wrote about getting to grips with JavaScript. On the very same day, Brad wrote about his struggle to learn React.

I think it’s really, really, really great when people share their frustrations and struggles like this. It’s very reassuring for anyone else out there who’s feeling similarly frustrated who’s worried that the problem lies with them. Also, this kind of confessional feedback is absolute gold dust for anyone looking to write explanations or documentation for JavaScript or React while battling the curse of knowledge. As Paul says:

The challenge now is to remember the pain and anguish I endured, and bare that in mind when helping others find their own path through the knotted weeds of JavaScript.