A potted history of communication networks from the pony express and the telegraph to ethernet and wi-fi.
Monday, January 17th, 2022
Tuesday, January 11th, 2022
Occasionally, I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong. Is my age, my technical unsophistication, or my fond remembrance of an internet unencumbered by commerce blinding me to the opportunities that crypto offers me? But then I read something terrible and I recant my doubts, meditate for a while and get on with my life.
Monday, January 10th, 2022
Blockchain technologies have somehow managed to land in the worst of both worlds—decentralized but not really, immutable but not really.
A great analysis of the system of smoke and mirrors that constitutes so-called web3:
Instead of being at the mercy of the “big tech” companies like Amazon and Google that monopolize the traditional way of doing things on the web, you are now at the mercy of a few other tech companies that are rapidly monopolizing the blockchain way of doing things.
Saturday, January 8th, 2022
A balanced, even-handed look at actually using so-called web3 technology. It turns out that even if you leave the ethical and environmental concerns aside, the technological underpinning are, um, troublesome to say the least.
Thursday, January 6th, 2022
A very even-handed and level-headed assessment by Laurie, who has far more patience than me when it comes to this shit.
The term “web3” is a transparent attempt to associate technologies diametrically opposed to the web with its success; an effort to launder the reputation of systems that have most effectively served as vehicles for money laundering, fraud, and the acceleration of ransomware using the good name of a system that I help maintain.
Perhaps this play to appropriate the value of the web is what it smells like: a desperate move by bag-holders to lure in a new tranche of suckers, allowing them to clear speculative positions. Or perhaps it’s honest confusion. Technically speaking, whatever it is, it isn’t the web or any iteration of it.
Wednesday, January 5th, 2022
Web3 is like a combination of pyramid schemes, scientology and Tamagotchi. There’s the fact that ultimately anything you do on blockchains costs you real money and that once you’ve paid that, you’re one of the people who need to get the next cohort of buyers onboard or lose your money. There’s believing that you’re joining a movement that’s in the know, with all kinds of interesting words and sci-fi stuff that normies just don’t understand. And there’s your portfolio, your pretty JPGs, wallets, apps and everything you spent so much time on understanding and maintaining. Good luck avoiding sunk cost fallacy there.
Monday, January 3rd, 2022
Ethereum is only decentralized in the way that doesn’t matter — you’re free to join the decentralized system, under the condition that you act in the exact same way as every other actor in that system.
2020 was the year of the virus. 2021 was the year of the vaccine …and the virus, obviously, but still it felt like the year we fought back. With science!
Whenever someone writes and shares one of these year-end retrospectives the result is, by its very nature, personal. These last two years are different though. We all still have our own personal perspectives, but we also all share a collective experience of The Ongoing Situation.
Like, I can point to three pivotal events in 2021 and I bet you could point to the same three for you:
- getting my first vaccine shot in March,
- getting my second vaccine shot in June, and
- getting my booster shot in December.
So while on the one hand we’re entering 2022 in a depressingly similar way to how we entered 2021 with COVID-19 running rampant, on the other hand, the odds have changed. We can calculate risk. We’ve got more information. And most of all, we’ve got these fantastic vaccines.
I summed up last year in terms of all the things I didn’t do. I could do the same for 2021, but there’s only one important thing that didn’t happen—I didn’t catch a novel coronavirus.
It’s not like I didn’t take some risks. While I was mostly a homebody, I did make excursions to Zürich and Lisbon. One long weekend in London was particurly risky.
At the end of the year, right as The Omicron Variant was ramping up, Jessica and I travelled to Ireland to see my mother, and then travelled to the States to see her family. We managed to dodge the Covid bullets both times, for which I am extremely grateful. My greatest fear throughout The Situation hasn’t been so much about catching Covid myself, but passing it on to others. If I were to give it to a family member or someone more vulnerable than me, I don’t think I could forgive myself.
Now that we’ve seen our families (after a two-year break!), I’m feeling more sanguine about this next stage. I’ll be hunkering down for the next while to ride out this wave, but if I still end up getting infected, at least I won’t have any travel plans to cancel.
But this is meant to be a look back at the year that’s just finished, not a battle plan for 2022.
There were some milestones in 2021:
This means that my websites are 2/5ths of my own age. In ten years time, my websites will be 1/2 of my own age.
Most of my work activities were necessarily online, though I did manage the aforementioned trips to Switzerland and Portugal to speak at honest-to-goodness real live in-person events. The major projects were:
- Publishing season two of the Clearleft podcast in February,
- Speaking at An Event Apart Online in April,
- Hosting UX Fest in June,
- Publishing season three of the Clearleft podcast in September, and
- Writing a course on responsive design in November.
Outside of work, my highlights of 2021 mostly involved getting to play music with other people—something that didn’t happen much in 2020. Band practice with Salter Cane resumed in late 2021, as did some Irish music sessions. Both are now under an Omicron hiatus but this too shall pass.
Another 2021 highlight was a visit by Tantek in the summer. He was willing to undergo quarantine to get to Brighton, which I really appreciate. It was lovely hanging out with him, even if all our social activities were by necessity outdoors.
But, like I said, the main achievement in 2021 was not catching COVID-19, and more importantly, not passing it on to anyone else. Time will tell whether or not that winning streak will be sustainable in 2022. But at least I feel somewhat prepared for it now, thanks to those magnificent vaccines.
2021 was a shitty year for a lot of people. I feel fortunate that for me, it was merely uneventful. If my only complaint is that I didn’t get to travel and speak as much I’d like, well boo-fucking-hoo, I’ll take it. I’ve got my health. My family members have their health. I don’t take that for granted.
Maybe 2022 will turn out to be similar—shitty for a lot of people, and mostly unenventful for me. Or perhaps 2022 will be a year filled with joyful in-person activities, like conferences and musical gatherings. Either way, I’m ready.
I’d recommend going in the order HTML, CSS, JS. That way, you can build something in HTML, add CSS to it as you learn it, and finally soup it up with your new-found JS knowledge.
Excellent advice for anyone new to web develoment.
Thursday, December 30th, 2021
Let the power of the browser work for you, and use less stuff!
Your websites start fast until you add too much to make them slow. Do you need any framework at all? Could you do what you want natively in the browser?
Wednesday, December 29th, 2021
Damn, I wish I had thought of giving this answer to the prompt, “What is one thing people can do to make their website better?”
If you do nothing else, this will be a huge boost to your site in 2022.
Chris’s piece is a self-contained tutorial!
Thursday, December 16th, 2021
So when it comes down to the root of the problem, perhaps it isn’t CSS itself but our unwillingness to examine our sexist ideas of what is worthy in web development.
Monday, December 13th, 2021
This is a very nifty use of a service worker—choose a local folder that you want to navigate using HTTP rather than the file system.
Tuesday, December 7th, 2021
The web historically moves in waves.
Libraries are created to push complex features in an easier way. Then the libraries themselves get complicated, often more so than the benefits they provide.
Eventually, (some of) the core features of those libraries make their way into the browser itself, but the libraries linger like water on the shore, slowly receding.
And before the sand has a chance to fully dry, a new set of libraries washes in to push the web even further.
Monday, November 15th, 2021
4 + 3
I work a four-day week now.
It started with the first lockdown. Actually, for a while there, I was working just two days a week while we took a “wait and see” attitude at Clearleft to see how The Situation was going to affect work. We weathered that storm, but rather than going back to a full five-day week I decided to try switching to four days instead.
This meant taking a pay cut. Time is literally money when it comes to work. But I decided it was worth it. That’s a privileged position to be in, I know. I managed to pay off the mortgage on our home last year so that reduced some financial pressure. But I also turned fifty, which made me think that I should really be padding some kind of theoretical nest egg. Still, the opportunity to reduce working hours looked good to me.
The ideal situation would be to have everyone switch to a four-day week without any reduction in pay. Some companies have done that but it wasn’t an option for Clearleft, alas.
I’m not the only one working a four-day week at Clearleft. A few people were doing it even before The Situation. We all take Friday as our non-work day, which makes for a nice long three-day weekend.
What’s really nice is that Friday has been declared a “no meeting” day for everyone at Clearleft. That means that those of us working a four-day week know we’re not missing out on anything and it’s pretty nice for people working a five-day week to have a day free of appointments. We have our end-of-week all-hands wind-down on Thursday afternoons.
I haven’t experienced any reduction in productivity. Quite the opposite. There may be a corollay to Parkinson’s Law: work contracts to fill the time available.
At one time, a six-day work week was the norm. It may well be that a four-day work week becomes the default over time. That could dovetail nicely with increasing automation.
I’ve got to say, I’m really, really liking this. It’s quite nice that when Wednesday rolls around, I can say “it’s almost the weekend!”
A three-day weekend feels normal to me now. I could imagine tilting the balance even more over time. Maybe every few years I could reduce the working by a day or half a day. So instead of going from a full-on five-day working week straight into retirement, it would be more of a gentle ratcheting down over the years.
Monday, November 8th, 2021
When I’ve spoken in the past about evaluating technology, I’ve mentioned two categories of tools for web development. I still don’t know quite what to call these categories. Internal and external? Developer-facing and user-facing?
I think the criteria for evaluating these different kinds of tools should be very different.
For the first category, developer-facing tools, use whatever you want. Use whatever makes sense to you and your team. Use whatever’s effective for you.
If a user-facing tool is only providing a developer benefit, is there any way to turn it into a developer-facing tool?
In my opinion, this is an excellent design decision.
I know there are ways of getting React to behave more like a category one tool, but it is most definitely not the default behaviour. And default behaviour really, really matters. For React, the default behaviour is to assume all the code you write—and the tool you use to write it—will be sent over the wire to end users. For Svelte, the default behaviour is the exact opposite.
But much as I love Svelte’s approach, I think it’s got its work cut out for it. It faces a formidable foe: inertia.
React has become so ubiquitous in the front-end development community that it’s often an unquestioned default choice for every project. It feels like enterprise software at this point. No one ever got fired for choosing React. Whether it’s appropriate or not becomes almost irrelevant. In much the same way that everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook, everyone uses React because everyone uses React.
That’s one of its biggest selling points to managers. If you’ve settled on React as your framework of choice, then hiring gets a lot easier: “If you want to work here, you need to know React.”
The same logic applies from the other side. If you’re starting out in web development, and you see that so many companies have settled on using React as their framework of choice, then it’s an absolute no-brainer: “if I want to work anywhere, I need to know React.”
This then creates a positive feedback loop. Everyone knows React because everyone is hiring React developers because everyone knows React because everyone is hiring React developers because…
At no point is there time to stop and consider if there’s a tool—like Svelte, for example—that would be less harmful for end users.
This is where I think Astro might have the edge over Svelte.
Astro has the same philosophy as Svelte. It’s a developer-facing tool by default. Have a listen to Drew’s interview with Matthew Phillips:
But crucially, unlike Svelte, Astro allows you to use the same syntax as the incumbent, React. So if you’ve learned React—because that’s what you needed to learn to get a job—you don’t have to learn a new syntax in order to use Astro.
I know you probably can’t take an existing React site and convert it to Astro with the flip of a switch, but at least there’s a clear upgrade path.
Astro reminds me of Sass. Specifically, it reminds me of the
.scss syntax. You could take any CSS file, rename its file extension from
.scss and it was automatically a valid Sass file. You could start using Sass features incrementally. You didn’t have to rewrite all your style sheets.
Sass also has a
.sass syntax. If you take a CSS file and rename it with a
.sass file extension, it is not going to work. You need to rewrite all your CSS to use the
.sass syntax. Some people used the
.sass syntax but the overwhelming majority of people used
I remember talking with Hampton about this and he confirmed the proportions. It was also the reason why one of his creations, Sass, was so popular, but another of his creations, Haml, was not, comparitively speaking—Sass is a superset of CSS but Haml is not a superset of HTML; it’s a completely different syntax.
I’m not saying that Svelte is like Haml and Astro is like Sass. But I do think that Astro has inertia on its side.
Speed for the sake of speed means nothing. If our design systems don’t ultimately lead to better quality experiences, we’re doing it wrong.
When we rush to release one-size-fits-all components, without doing the work to understand different contexts before curating and consolidating solutions, we sacrifice quality at the hands of speed.
The irony? In the long run, this will slow us down. We end up having to undo the work we’ve done to fix the problems we’ve created.
Ultimately, when we prioritise speed over quality, we end up with neither.
Tuesday, October 19th, 2021
A great talk from Dave on web components:
The talk makes a callback to my talk Building from a few years back. I like that. It feels like a long thoughtful converstation.