You, the software engineers and leaders of technology companies, face an enormous responsibility. You know better than anyone how best to protect the millions who have entrusted you with their data, and your knowledge gives you real power as civic actors. If you want to transform the world for the better, here is your moment. Inquire about how a platform will be used. Encrypt as much as you can. Oppose the type of data analysis that predicts people’s orientation, religion, and political preferences if they did not willingly offer that information.
Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Sunday, January 15th, 2017
A 1983 article from 73 Magazine on the surprisingly plausible Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson device created by E.T. to call home.
Monday, January 9th, 2017
A wonderfully thoughtful piece from Robin, ranging from the printing technologies of the 15th century right up to the latest web technologies. It’s got all my favourite things in there: typography, digital preservation, and service workers. Marvellous!
Friday, January 6th, 2017
Making fire, building shelter, throwing spears …all useful post-apocalyptic skills documented on the primitive technology blog.
Primitive technology is a hobby where you make things in the wild completely from scratch using no modern tools or materials. This is the strict rule. If you want a fire- use fire sticks, an axe- pick up a stone and shape it, a hut- build one from trees, mud, rocks etc. The challenge is seeing how far you can go without modern technology. If this hobby interests you then this blog might be what you are looking for.
I love this recasting of the internet into a fantastical medieval setting. Standards become spells, standards bodies become guilds and orders of a coven, and technologies become instruments of divination. Here, for example, is the retelling of IPv4:
The Unique Rune of the Fourth Order is the original and formative Unique Rune, still commonly in use. All existing Unique Runes of the Fourth Order were created simultaneously in the late 1970’s by the Numberkeepers, at a time when Rough Telepathy was a small and speculative effort tightly affiliated with the Warring Kingdom of the United States. There were then and are now 4.3 billion Unique Runes of the Fourth Order, a number which cannot be increased. The early Numberkeepers believed 4.3 billion would be more than enough. However, this number is no longer sufficient to provision the masses hungry to never disengage from participation in Rough Telepathy, and the Merchants eager to harness Rough Telepathy as a “feature” in new and often unnecessary consumer products. This shortage has caused considerable headache among the Fiefdoms, the Regional Telepathy Registers, and the Coven.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, now available for pre-order | Adam Greenfield’s Speedbird
Adam Greenfield’s new book is almost here at last, and it sounds like it has pivoted into quite an interesting beast.
Monday, December 26th, 2016
Did you know that Ilya’s book was available in its entirety online? I didn’t. But now that I do, I think it’s time I got stuck in and tried to understand the low-level underpinnings of the internet and the web.
Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
This article examines what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Rogue One—the ethical implications for technologists.
Don’t dismiss this essay just because it’s about a Hollywood blockbuster. Given the current political situation, this is deeply relevant.
Friday, November 25th, 2016
A superb 2012 essay by Olia Lialin. J.C.R. Licklider, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, Don Norman, Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Douglas Rushkoff and Cory Doctorow all make an appearance.
There’s a lot to think about here. I’m particular struck by the idea that calling people “users” isn’t necessarily the dehumanising Lakoffian language we think it is; users have power and control. If we stop treating people like users, we may end up infantilising and disempowering them.
But when you read it in a broader context, the denial of the word “user” in favor of “people” becomes dangerous. Being a User is the last reminder that there is, whether visible or not, a computer, a programmed system you use.
Monday, November 21st, 2016
Russell wrote an article for Wired magazine all about PowerPoint, but this extended director’s cut on his own site is the real deal.
Who knew that the creator of PowerPoint was such an enthusiast for the concertina?
Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
Jeffrey likes the new talk I debuted at An Event San Francisco. That’s nice!
Summarizing it here is like trying to describe the birth of your child in five words or less. Fortunately, you can see Jeremy give this presentation for yourself at several upcoming An Event Apart conference shows in 2017.
Monday, November 14th, 2016
The Government Digital Service have published the results of their assistive technology survey, which makes a nice companion piece to Heydon’s survey. It’s worth noting that the most common assistive technology isn’t screen readers; it’s screen magnifiers. See also this Guardian article on the prevalence of partial blindness:
Of all those registered blind or partially sighted, 93% retain some useful vision – often enough to read a book or watch a film. But this can lead to misunderstanding and confusion
Monday, November 7th, 2016
If you enjoyed reading Marcin’s serendipitous story on Twitter, here are the pictures to accompany it.
The challenge of being in tech when you’re over 40 is the challenge of constantly setting aside your expectations of how things should work, repeatedly questioning your assumptions, and constantly re-evaluating your positions. It’s the challenge of being a lifelong learner; cultivating the humility of the beginner, the passion of the practitioner, and the joy of the master. It is the challenge of not being so quick to apply old analysis, rely on outdated experience, or expect what worked before to work again.
Thursday, November 3rd, 2016
I don’t really have much of an opinion on his central point that browser makers should work more closely with framework makers. I’m not so sure I agree with the central premise that frameworks are going to be around for the long haul. I think good frameworks—like jQuery—should aim to make themselves redundant.
But anyway, along the way, Tom makes this observation:
Google has an institutional tendency to go it alone.
I don’t really mind these inventions. We’re not forced to adopt them, and generally, we don’t. Tom again:
See, that’s a really, really good point. It’s so much easier to get people to adjust their behaviour than to change it completely.
Sass is a really good example of this. You can take any
.css file, save it as a
.scss file, and now you’re using Sass. Then you can start using features (or not) as needed. Very smart.
Incidentally, I’m very curious to know how many people use the scss syntax (which is the same as CSS) compared to how many people use the sass indented syntax (the one with significant whitespace). In his brilliant Sass for Web Designers book, I don’t think Dan even mentioned the indented syntax.
Or compare the adoption of Sass to the adoption of HAML. Now, admittedly, the disparity there might be because Sass adds new features, whereas HAML is a purely stylistic choice. But I think the more fundamental difference is that Sass—with its scss syntax—only requires you to slightly adjust your behaviour, whereas something like HAML requires you to go all in right from the start.
This is something that has been on my mind a lately while I’ve been preparing my new talk on evaluating technology (the talk went down very well at An Event Apart San Francisco, by the way—that’s a relief). In the talk, I made a reference to one of Grace Hopper’s famous quotes:
Humans are allergic to change.
Now, Grace Hopper subsequently says:
I try to fight that.
I contrast that with the approach that Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau took with their World Wide Web project. The individual pieces were built on what people were already familiar with. URLs use slashes so they’d be feel similar to UNIX file paths. And the first fledging version of HTML took its vocabulary almost wholesale from a version of SGML already in use at CERN. In fact, you could pretty much take an existing CERN SGML file and open it as an HTML file in a web browser.
Oh, and that browser would ignore any tags it didn’t understand—behaviour that, in my opinion, would prove crucial to the growth and success of HTML. Because of its familiarity, its simplicity, and its forgiving error handling, HTML turned to be more successful than Tim Berners-Lee expected, as he wrote in his book Weaving The Web:
I expected HTML to be the basic waft and weft of the Web but documents of all types: video, computer aided design, sound, animation and executable programs to be the colored threads that would contain much of the content. It would turn out that HTML would become amazingly popular for the content as well.
Humans are allergic to change. And that’s okay.
Monday, October 24th, 2016
Research on evaluating technology
I’ve spent the past few months preparing a new talk for An Event Apart San Francisco (and hopefully some more AEAs after that). As always happens, I spent the whole time vacillating between thinking “this is good!” and thinking “this is awful!” I’m still bouncing between those poles. I won’t really know whether the talk is up to snuff until I actually give it to a live audience.
Over the past few years, my presentations have been upon one another. Two years ago, my talk was called Enhance! and it set the groundwork for using a layered approach to web design and development. My 2016 talk, Resilience, follows on with a process and examples for that approach (I also set myself the challenge of delivering a talk about progressive enhancement without ever using the phrase “progressive enhancement”).
My new talk goes a bit meta, but in my mind, it’s very much building on the previous talks. The talk is all about evaluating technology. I haven’t settled on a final title, but I was thinking about something obtuse, like …Evaluating Technology.
Here’s my hastily scribbled description:
As ever, I’ll begin and end with a long-zoom pretentious arc of history, but I’ll dive into practical stuff in the middle. That’s become a bit of a cliché for my presentations, but the formula works as a sort of microcosm of a good conference—a mixture of the inspirational and the practical, trying to keep a good balance of both.
For this new talk, the practical focus will be on some web technologies that are riding high on the hype cycle right now: service workers, web components, progressive web apps. I’ll use them as a lens for applying broader questions about how we make decisions about the technologies we embrace, and the technologies we reject.
Technology. Now there’s a big subject. It’s literally the entirety of human history. I had to be careful not to go down too many rabbit holes. I’m still not sure if I’ve succeeded, but I’ve already had to ruthlessly cull some darlings.
One of the nice things that the An Event Apart crew started doing was to provide link lists for each talk to attendees. That gives me an opportunity to touch briefly on a topic in the talk itself, but allow any interested attendees to dive deeper at their leisure.
For this talk on evaluating technology, I’ve put together this list of hyperlinks for further reading, watching, listening, and researching…
- Design Principles
- The Extensible Web Manifesto
- Developer Fallacies
Progressive Web Apps
- Home Screen
- Regressive Web Apps
- The Progressive Web App Dev Summit
- The Imitation Game
- Progressive Web Apps: Escaping Tabs Without Losing Our Soul by Alex Russell
- The Building Blocks of Progressive Web Apps by Ada Rose Edwards
- Progressive Web Apps: The Long Game by Remy Sharp
- What, Exactly, Makes Something A Progressive Web App? by Alex Russell
- Reports and Working Notes on DNA by Rosalind Franklin
- I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read
- HTML Design Principles edited by Anne van Kesteren and Maciej Stachowiak
- Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by L. F. Menabrea with notes upon the memoir by the translator Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace
- The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era by Vernor Vinge
- The Real World of Technology by Ursula M. Franklin @ the CBC Massey Lectures, 1989
- The Triumph Of Technology by Lord Sir Alec Broers @ the BBC Reith Lectures, 2005
- How Technology Evolves by Kevin Kelly @ TED, 2005
- When Ideas Have Sex by Matt Ridley @ TED, 2010
- How I Built A Toaster—From Scratch by Thomas Thwaites @ TED, 2010
- Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll by James Burke @ dConstruct, 2012
- Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area by Dan Williams @ dConstruct, 2013
- Hypertext As An Agent Of Change by Mandy Brown @ dConstruct 2014
- The Humane Representation Of Thought by Bret Victor @ the UIST and SPLASH conferences, 2014
- Our Comrade The Electron by Maciej Cegłowski @ Webstock, 2014
- Step Off This Hurtling Machine by Alex Feyerke @ JSConf.au, 2014
- The Moral Economy of Tech by Maciej Cegłowski @ the Society For The Advancement Of Socio-Economics, 2016
- The Real World Of Technology by Ursula M. Franklin
- The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
- What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
- The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
- How We Got To Now: Six Innovations That Made The Modern World by Steven Johnson
- 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu by Kenji Kawakami
- The Toaster Project (Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch) by Thomas Thwaites
- Connections by James Burke
Friday, October 21st, 2016
A ten-year old paper that looks at the history of the ARAPNET and internet to see how they dealt with necessary changes.
Changing a large network is very difficult. It is much easier to deploy a novel new protocol that fills a void than it is to replace an existing protocol that more or less works.
Monday, October 10th, 2016
This is such a great perspective on what it’s like to build for the web over the long term. The web will always be a little bit broken, and that’s okay—we can plan for that.
The Web has history. If you build with web technology it will stick around. We try not to break the web even if it means the mistakes and bad decisions we have made in the past (and will make in the future) get set in stone.
Sunday, October 9th, 2016
We should be asking why we need a framework or a tool before just dropping it in. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t learn new things. YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD BE CONTINUOUSLY LEARNING! But you should ensure that you have a solid base to work from.