When you’re struggling to write something that sounds clear and sounds human (two of the essential basics of a good blog post, I’d argue), just use the words normal people would use.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018
If we use jargon, we reveal our insecurity. If we use pretentious language, we expose our arrogance. But if we use language that anyone can understand, people are much more likely to value what we do.
Wednesday, September 26th, 2018
A search engine for colours.
Tuesday, August 7th, 2018
Inclusive design is also future-proofing technology for everyone. Swan noted that many more developers and designers are considering accessibility issues as they age and encounter poor eyesight or other impairments.
Tuesday, July 10th, 2018
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.
Friday, July 6th, 2018
Testing the theory that putting the word “total”, “complete”, or “absolute” in front of any noun automatically makes for an excellent insult.
Tuesday, June 12th, 2018
I’ve been wondering about this for quite a while: surely demanding specific patterns in a password (e.g. can’t be all lowercase, must include at least one number, etc.) makes it easier to crack them, right? I mean, you’re basically providing a ruleset for brute-forcing.
Turns out, yes. That’s exactly right.
When employees are faced with this requirement, they tend to:
- Choose a dictionary word or a name
- Make the first character uppercase
- Add a number at the end, and/or an exclamation point
If we know that is a common pattern, then we know where to start…
Thursday, March 29th, 2018
The answers to these questions about forms are useful for just about any website:
- Is It OK To Place A Form In Two Columns?
- Where Should Labels Be Placed?
- Can We Use Placeholder Text Instead Of A Label?
- How To Lessen The Cognitive Load Of A Form?
- Are Buttons Considered Part Of A Form’s UX?
- Is It Possible To Ease The Process Of Filling A Form?
- Does The User’s Location Influence A Form’s UX?
Monday, January 1st, 2018
Words I wrote in 2017
I wrote 78 blog posts in 2017. That works out at an average of six and a half blog posts per month. I’ll take it.
Here are some pieces of writing from 2017 that I’m relatively happy with:
Going Rogue. A look at the ethical questions raised by Rogue One
In AMP we trust. My unease with Google’s AMP format was growing by the day.
A minority report on artificial intelligence. Revisiting two of Spielberg’s films after a decade and a half.
Progressing the web. I really don’t want progressive web apps to just try to imitate native apps. They can be so much more.
CSS. Simple, yes, but not easy.
Intolerable. A screed. I still get very, very angry when I think about how that manifestbro duped people.
Акула. Recounting a story told by a taxi driver.
Hooked and booked. Does A/B testing lead to dark patterns?
Ubiquity and consistency. Different approaches to building on the web.
I hope there’s something in there that you like. It always a nice bonus when other people like something I’ve written, but I write for myself first and foremost. Writing is how I figure out what I think. I will, of course, continue to write and publish on my website in 2018. I’d really like it if you did the same.
Wednesday, November 15th, 2017
Language conjures the world into being.
Just type stuff.
Monday, July 10th, 2017
I like words. I like the way they can be tethered together to produce a satisfying sentence.
Jessica likes words even more than I do (that’s why her website is called “wordridden”). She studied linguistics and she’s a translator by trade—German into English. Have a read of her post about translating Victor Klemperer to get an inkling of how much thought and care she puts into it.
Given the depth of enquiry required for a good translation, I was particularly pleased to read this remark by John Le Carré:
No wonder then that the most conscientious editors of my novels are not those for whom English is their first language, but the foreign translators who bring their relentless eye to the tautological phrase or factual inaccuracy – of which there are far too many. My German translator is particularly infuriating.
That’s from an article called Why we should learn German, but it’s really about why we should strive for clarity in our use of language:
Clear language — lucid, rational language — to a man at war with both truth and reason, is an existential threat. Clear language to such a man is a direct assault on his obfuscations, contradictions and lies. To him, it is the voice of the enemy. To him, it is fake news. Because he knows, if only intuitively, what we know to our cost: that without clear language, there is no standard of truth.
It reminds me of one of my favourite Orwell essays, Politics and the English Language:
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
But however much I agree with Le Carré’s reprise of Orwell’s call for clarity, I was brought up short by this:
Every time I hear a British politician utter the fatal words, “Let me be very clear”, these days I reach for my revolver.
Le Carré’s text was part of a speech given in Berlin, where everyone would get the reference to the infamous Nazi quote—
Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning—and I’m sure it was meant with a sly wink. But words matter.
Words are powerful. Words can be love and comfort — and words can be weapons.
Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
When I did my 100 days project, I found it really challenging. I’m so impressed that Amber has managed to do this: she wrote exactly 100 words every day for 100 days.
10,000 words, 10 megawords, 100 h-entries of hand-written HTML:
I can’t believe I have written ten thousand words. If I were to read everything out it would take me almost an hour. Yet, one hundred words seems like such a small amount. An amount that only takes a few minutes to write.
Thursday, March 30th, 2017
Jon’s site is very clever …but is it as clever as Joe’s?
Friday, March 10th, 2017
And here’s another reason why password rules are bullshit: you’re basically giving a list of instructions to hackers—the password rules help them narrow down the strings they need to brute force.
Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Ever been on one of those websites that doesn’t allow you to paste into the password field? Frustrating, isn’t it? (Especially if you use a password manager.)
It turns out that nobody knows how this ever started. It’s like a cargo cult without any cargo.
Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
This is a wonderful service! Handcrafted artisanal passwords made with a tried and trusted technique:
You roll a die 5 times and write down each number. Then you look up the resulting five-digit number in the Diceware dictionary, which contains a numbered list of short words.
That’s the description from the site’s creator, Mira:
Please keep in mind when ordering that I am a full-time sixth grade student with a lot of homework.
She’s the daughter of Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation.
Thursday, May 19th, 2016
Owning my words
When I wrote a few words about progressive enhancement recently, I linked to Karolina’s great article The Web Isn’t Uniform. I was a little reluctant to link to it, not because of the content—which is great—but because of its location on Ev’s blog. I much prefer to link directly to people’s own websites (I have a hunch that those resources tend to last longer too) but I understand that Medium offers a nice low barrier to publishing.
That low barrier comes at a price. It means you have to put up with anyone and everyone weighing in with their own hot takes. The way the site works is that anyone who writes a comment on your article is effectively writing their own article—you don’t get to have any editorial control over what kind of stuff appears together with your words. There is very little in the way of community management once a piece is published.
Karolina’s piece attracted some particularly unsavoury snark—tech bros disagreeing in their brash bullying way. I linked to a few comments, leaving out the worst of the snark, but I couldn’t resist editorialising:
Ah, Medium! Where the opinions of self-entitled dudes flow like rain from the tech heavens.
I knew even when I was writing it that it was unproductive, itself a snarky remark. Two wrongs don’t make a right. But I wanted to acknowledge that not only was bad behaviour happening, but that I was seeing it, and I wasn’t ignoring it. I guess it was mostly intended for Karolina—I wanted to extend some kind of acknowledgment that the cumulative weight of those sneering drive-by reckons is a burden that no one should have to put up with.
Tempted to @-mention orgs who’s employees abuse me in comments under my posts. Then I remember about million more interesting things to do.— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 29, 2016
“Everyday, a dude goes out of their way to tell you you’re wrong. Women’s life on the Internet.” A novel.— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 29, 2016
I’m literally done reading the comments for my article. It saddens me that even high-profile Web folk fails to see what I meant…— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 26, 2016
№1 rule of posting controversial content: NEVER read the comments*— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 25, 2016
*of random dudes who misunderstood the point and are trying to mock you.
I literally wrote JS is great but the point is understanding who you build for and be empathetic. Still people call me a hater.— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 24, 2016
Funny enough it was 98% men trying to tell me I don’t understand how the web works.— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 24, 2016
Guess what? Stop reading in between the lines.
Probably going to have white male dudes tweeting at me how much they disagree for eternity.— fantastic ms. (@fox) April 23, 2016
I knew that when I wrote about Medium being “where the opinions of self-entitled dudes flow like rain from the tech heavens” that I would (rightly) get pushback, and sure enough, I did …on Medium. Not on Twitter or anywhere else, just Medium.
I syndicate my posts to Ev’s blog, so the free-for-all approach to commenting doesn’t bother me that much. The canonical URL for my words remains on my site under my control. But for people posting directly to Medium and then having to put up with other people casually shitting all over their words, it must feel quite disempowering.
I have a similar feeling with Twitter. I syndicate my notes there and if the service disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn’t shed any tears. There’s something very comforting in knowing that any snarky nasty responses to my words are only being thrown at copies. I know a lot of my friends are disheartened about the way that Twitter has changed in recent years. I wish I could articulate how much better it feels to only use Twitter (or Medium or Facebook) as a syndication tool, like RSS.
There is an equal and opposite reaction too. I think it’s easier to fling off some thoughtless remarks when you’re doing it on someone else’s site. I bet you that the discourse on Ev’s blog would be of a much higher quality if you could only respond from your own site. I find I’m more careful with my words when I publish here on adactio.com. I’m taking ownership of what I say.
And when I do lapse and write snarky words like “Ah, Medium! Where the opinions of self-entitled dudes flow like rain from the tech heavens.”, at least I’m owning my own snark. Still, I will endeavour to keep my snark levels down …but that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour.
Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
Maciej’s first report from Antarctica is here. Put the kettle on and settle in for a grand read.
Thursday, May 12th, 2016
An engaging look at the history of word processing, word processed by Josephine Livingstone.