Tags: technology

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Monday, February 20th, 2017

The Secret History of Hypertext - The Atlantic

The latest excellent missive from The History Of The Web—A Brief History of Hypertext—leads back to this great article by Alex Wright on Paul Otlet’s Mundaneum.

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

The Schedule and the Stream

Matt takes a look at the history of scheduled broadcast media—which all began in Hungary in 1887 via telephone—and compares it to the emerging media context of the 21st century; the stream.

If the organizing principle of the broadcast schedule was synchronization — millions seeing the same thing at the same time — then the organizing principle of the stream is de-contextualization — stories stripped of their original context, and organized into millions of individual, highly personalized streams.

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Trump: A Resister’s Guide | Harper’s Magazine - Part 11

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.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

How E.T. Really Called Home (PDF)

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

The Futures of Typography

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 stuff from scratch in the wild

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.

The Realm of Rough Telepathy

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

High Performance Browser Networking (O’Reilly)

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

Rogue One: an ‘Engineering Ethics’ Story — SciFi Policy

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

Turing Complete User

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

29 Bullets

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

State of the Web: Evaluating Technology | Jeremy Keith - Zeldman on Web & Interaction Design

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

Results of the 2016 GOV.UK assistive technology survey | Accessibility

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

Bob Baxley: Don’t Judge. Just Observe. | Design.blog

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

Adoption

Tom wrote a post on Ev’s blog a while back called JavaScript Frameworks: Distribution Channels for Good Ideas (I’ve been hoping he’d publish it on his own site so I’d have a more permanent URL to point to, but so far, no joy). It’s well worth a read.

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.

JavaScript not good enough? Let’s create Dart to replace it. HTML not good enough? Let’s create AMP to replace it. I’m just waiting for them to announce Google Style Sheets.

I don’t really mind these inventions. We’re not forced to adopt them, and generally, we don’t. Tom again:

They poured enormous time and money into Dart, even building an entire IDE, without much to show for it. Contrast Dart’s adoption with the adoption of TypeScript and Flow, which layer improvements on top of JavaScript instead of trying to replace it.

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.

HTML and SGML; Sass and CSS; TypeScript and JavaScript. The new technology builds on top of the existing technology instead of wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch.

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:

We work with technology every day. And every day it seems like there’s more and more technology to understand: graphic design tools, build tools, frameworks and libraries, not to mention new HTML, CSS and JavaScript features landing in browsers. How should we best choose which technologies to invest our time in? When we decide to weigh up the technology choices that confront us, what are the best criteria for doing that? This talk will help you evaluate tools and technologies in a way that best benefits the people who use the websites that we are designing and developing. Let’s take a look at some of the hottest new web technologies like service workers and web components. Together we will dig beneath the hype to find out whether they will really change life on the web for the better.

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…

People

Papers

Presentations

Books

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Fermat’s Library | Why the Internet only just works annotated/explained version.

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.