Tags: writing

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Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Web Publications for the Open Web Platform: Vision And Technical Challenges

Given my experience publishing Resilient Web Design as a web book, I think I should take a good look at this nascent spec.

What we envision for Packaged Web Publications is similar to the goals and techniques of Progressive Web Apps: breaking the boundaries between web sites and mobile apps, an emphasis on “offline” paradigms, and so on. The time is right to broaden the scope and power of the web to include publications.

Improbable Botany by Wayward — Kickstarter

Improbable Botany is a brand-new science fiction anthology about alien plant conquests, fantastical ecosystems, benevolent dictatorships and techno-utopias.

This is the book plants don’t want you to read…

The illustrations look beautiful too.

Posting to my site

I was idly thinking about the different ways I can post to adactio.com. I decided to count the ways.

Admin interface

This is the classic CMS approach. In my case the CMS is a crufty hand-rolled affair using PHP and MySQL that I wrote years ago. I log in to an admin interface and fill in a form, putting the text of my posts into a textarea. In truth, I usually write in a desktop text editor first, and then paste that into the textarea. That’s what I’m doing now—copying and pasting Markdown from the Typed app.

Directly from my site

If I’m logged in, I get a stripped down posting interface in the notes section of my site.

Notes posting interface

Bookmarklet

This is how I post links. When I’m at a URL I want to bookmark, I hit the “Bookmark it” bookmarklet in my browser’s bookmarks bar. That pops open a version of the admin interface tailored specifically for links. I really, really like bookmarklets. The one big downside is that they don’t work on mobile.

Text message

This is something I knocked together at Indie Web Camp Brighton 2015 using the Twilio API. It’s handy for posting notes if I’m travelling somewhere and data is at a premium. But I don’t use it that often.

Instagram

Thanks to Aaron’s OwnYourGram service—and the fact that my site has a micropub endpoint—I can post images from Instagram to my site. This used to happen instantaneously but Instagram changed their API rules for the worse. Between that and their shitty “algorithmic” timeline, I find myself using the service less and less. At this point I’m only on their for the doggos.

Swarm

Like OwnYourGram, Aaron’s OwnYourSwarm allows me to post check-ins and photos from the Swarm app to my site. Again, micropub makes it all possible.

OwnYourGram and OwnYourSwarm are very similar and could probably be abstracted into a generic service for posting from third-party apps to micropub endpoints. I’d quite like to post my check-ins on Untappd to my site.

Other people’s admin interfaces

Thanks to rel="me" and IndieAuth, I can log into other people’s posting interfaces using my own website as the log-in, and post to my micropub endpoint, like this. Quill is a good example of this. I don’t use it that much, but I really should—the editor interface is quite Medium-like in its design.

Anyway, those are the different ways I can update my website that I can think of right now.

Syndication

In terms of output, I’ve got a few different ways of syndicating what I post here:

Just so you know, if you comment on one of my posts on Facebook, I probably won’t see it. But if you reply to a copy of one of posts on Twitter or Instagram, it will show up over here on adactio.com thanks to the magic of Brid.gy and webmention.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Writing Hacks: The Adafruit Guide to Being Excellent to Each Other in Emails « Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers!

Language is a technology. It’s a particularly strange one that’s made of squiggles and sounds and maps of meaning, but like any other technology, it’s hackable.

Good advice on reducing unintended stress via email.

Negativity bias is a tendency for negatives to have a greater effect than positives on our emotional state.

For email this can have radical effects: positive emails seem neutral, neutral emails seem negative, and even slightly negative emails can lead to actual, measurable pain.

Even with the best of intentions we can come off distant — or just plain mean.

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Words

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.

Friday, July 7th, 2017

What football will look like in the future

I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely surprised, delighted, and intrigued by an online story like this.

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Seat 14C

Here’s a fun premise for a collection of sci-fi short stories:

Flight 008 through a temporary wrinkle in the local region of space-time. What these passengers will soon find out as they descend into SFO is that the wrinkle has transported them 20 years in the future, and the year is now 2037.

Read the stories of the passengers from Flight 008, imagined by the world’s top science fiction storytellers, as they discover a future transformed by exponential technologies.

Authors include Bruce Sterling, Madeline Ashby, Paulo Bacigalupi, and Gregory Benford.

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Design systems - Alla Kholmatova

Here’s the website for Alla’s forthcoming book. You can sign up to a low-volume mailing list to get notified of updates.

Meet “Design Systems”, A New Smashing Book (Pre-Release) – Smashing Magazine

Alla’s book is going to be a must-have (I know because I’ve been reviewing it as she’s been writing it). Pre-order it now. It’s out in September.

Sunday, June 4th, 2017

Aurora

I remember when I was first recommended to read Kim Stanley Robinson. I was chatting with Jon Tan about science fiction, and I was bemoaning the fact that dystopias seem to be the default setting. Asking "what’s the worst that could happen?" is the over-riding pre-occupation of most sci-fi. Black Mirror is the perfect example of this. Mind you, that’s probably why the ambiguous San Junipero is one of my favourites—utopia? dystopia? dystutopia? You decide.

Anyway, Jon told me I should check out Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias; one book describes a dystopia, one book describes a utopia, and the other—his debut, The Wild Shore—is more ambiguous. I liked the sound of that, but I decided that if I were going to read Kim Stanley Robinson, I should start with his most famous work, the Mars trilogy.

So I read Red Mars. I liked it, but I found it tough going. It’s not exactly a light read. I still haven’t read Green Mars or Blue Mars, though I plan to. I can see why Red Mars is regarded as a classic of hard sci-fi, but it left me somewhat cold. Jessica read The Years of Rice and Salt and had a similar reaction—good premise, thoroughly researched, but tough going.

When I heard about 2312, I couldn’t resist its promise of a jaunt around the solar system. Again, I enjoyed it, but the plot—such as it was—didn’t grab me. I loved the ideas presented in the book. Heck, it inspired one of my Science Hack Day projects. Still, I found that its literary conceit wasn’t enough to carry the book—a character from Saturn who’s saturnian in nature meets a character from Mercury who’s mercurial in nature.

So I was kind of bracing myself for Aurora. Again, the subject matter really appealed to me. I’m a sucker for generation starships. Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop was a fun read, although in typical Aldiss style, it was weird to the point of psychedelia (even if it looks positively tame next to the batshit crazy world of Hothouse). I was looking forward to reading Robinson’s hard science take on the space ark idea, but I was worried about how much of a slog the writing might be. I read some reviews and listened to some podcasts, and my heart sank when I heard about how the story is partly told by the ship’s AI, who is simultaneously trying to work out how to tell a story. It sounded just like one of those ideas that would be fine for a brief period, but which I could imagine Kim Stanley Robinson dragging out for hundreds of page.

Imagine my surprise when Aurora turned out to be an absolute pleasure. Not only does it have the thoroughly-researched hard science angle of Robinson’s other books, it’s also a rip-roaring tale, in my opinion. I had read of misgivings with the structure of the book—complaints that the story climaxes before the book is halfway done—but I think that misses the point of the story. This is not your typical tale of colonisation. Far from it. Kim Stanley Robinson is quite open about the underlying idea here, that there are certain endeavours that are simply beyond our capacity.

I know that sounds like a very pessimistic view, but I found the book to be a real testament to human ingenuity. But it certainly ruffled quite a few feathers. Like I said, the default setting for most sci-fi is to go negative, but for a sci-fi writer to claim outright that something cannot be done is audacious, and flies in the face of sci-fi tradition.

Gregory Benford wrote a review over on one of my favourite blogs, Centauri Dreams. He takes Robinson to task for stacking the deck against the crew of the ship in Aurora—an inversion of the usual deus ex machina plot devices. I find that criticism puzzling when another review, also on Centauri Dreams, by Stephen Baxter, James Benford and Joseph Miller, takes the book to task for being scientifically naïve.

For me, Aurora was perfectly balanced. It simultaneously captured the wonder of scientific exploration and our own insignificance in the universe. Best of all, it featured central characters that I was utterly invested in—one human, and one artificial. Given my previous experiences with Kim Stanley Robinson books, that was perhaps its greatest achievement. Whereas I might have previously recommended something like 2312, I would have certainly caveated the recommendation. But I wholeheartedly recommend Aurora. It’s easily the best Kim Stanley Robinson book I’ve read so far, and one of the finest science fiction books of recent years. It makes a great companion piece to Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves—not only are they both dealing with space arks, they’ve also got some in-depth descriptions of angular momentum in action, and they’re both thoroughly enjoyable stories that stretch beyond a single human lifespan.

I’m looking forward to digging back through Kim Stanley Robinson’s back catalogue, and I’m very intrigued by his newest book, New York 2140. From listening to his Long Now talk at The Interval, it sounds like the book has as much to say about near-future economics as it does about climate change.

It’s ironic though. Kim Stanley Robinson was first recommended to me because he was one of the few sci-fi writers unafraid to depict a utopia. But his writing never clicked with me until I read Aurora, whose central message sounds like the ultimate downer …that some scientific achievements will forever remain out of reach for humanity.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

100 words, 100 days.

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, May 11th, 2017

Programming Design Systems

This is a really intriguing book that combines design theory and programming—learn about contrast, colour, and shapes, with each lesson supported by code examples.

It’s still a work in progress but the whole thing is online for free. Yay for web books!

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

ongoing by Tim Bray · Still Blogging in 2017

This really resonates with me. Tim Bray duly notes that people are writing on Medium, and being shunted towards native apps, and that content is getting centralised at Facebook and other hubs, and then he declares:

But I don’t care.

Same.

Any­how, I’m not go­ing away.

Same.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

leaving the future behind – Al Robertson

Science fiction isn’t about technology, it’s about people …and how people change in response to technology.

So ironically, perhaps the only way that any piece of science fiction can be sure that it will remain resonant as the years pass is to make sure that any technical speculation can drop away once it’s no longer relevant. The science will fall back to Earth like an exhausted booster section, tumbling away from the rocket that will one day reach the stars. And then we’ll be left with stories about how people change when change arrives – and that, for me, is what science fiction is.

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Sideways Dictionary

This is a rather lovely idea—technical terms explained with analogies.

I just finished writing something about HTTPS and now I wish I had used this.

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

The Elements of Bureaucratic Style

I’m currently reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker, and it resonates nicely with this article on the numbing effect of the bureaucratic style exemplified in phrases like “officer-involved shooting.”

Watching the cell phone videos of the assault has, for most people, the immediate effect of provoking outrage and awakening a desire for justice. The purpose of bureaucratic speech is to dull these responses. It suggests your outrage is not worth it, that it’s fine to go back to what you were doing, that it’s best to move along and mind your own business.

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

Reflections on Resilient Web Design - Scott Dawson

I’m genuinely touched that my little web book could inspire someone like this. I absolutely love reading about what people thought of the book, especially when they post on their own site like this.

This book has inspired me to approach web site building in a new way. By focusing on the core functionality and expanding it based on available features, I’ll ensure the most accessible site I can. Resilient web sites can give a core experience that’s meaningful, but progressively enhance that experience based on technical capabilities.

Monday, April 10th, 2017

Recommended Reading: Resilient Web Design, a Free e-Book from Jeremy Keith – WordPress Tavern

A jolly nice review of Resilient Web Design.

After just a few pages in, I could see why so many have read Resilient Web Design all in one go. It lives up to all the excellent reviews.

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

A bit more on container queries. — Ethan Marcotte

Ethan wrote about container queries on his website. Paul wrote his counter-argument on his website. Now Ethan responds. It’s fun to watch two gentlemen engage in civilised discourse.

Blogs, man. They’re gonna big, I tells ya.

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

Joe Coleman

Joe’s site is very clever …but is it as clever as Jon’s?