I like the way this work-in-progress is organised—it’s both a book and a personal website that’ll grow over time.
Tuesday, September 20th, 2022
Saturday, September 17th, 2022
Well, now I’m really glad I wrote that post about logical properties!
We’re not there yet. So how do we get there?
Well, I don’t know for sure – but articles like this are very helpful as we try to work it out!
Thursday, September 15th, 2022
Let’s get logical
I was refactoring some CSS on The Session over the weekend. I thought it would be good to switch over to using logical properties exclusively. I did this partly to make the site more easily translatable into languages with different writing modes, but mostly as an exercise to help train me in thinking with logical properties by default.
All in all, it went pretty smoothly. You can kick the tyres by opening up dev tools on The Session and adding a
writing-mode declaration to the
For the most part, the switchover was smooth. It mostly involved swapping out property names with
border-radius properties tripped me up a little. You have to use shorthand like
border-block-start-inline-end-radius (that doesn’t exist). So you have to keep the order of the properties in mind:
Speaking of shorthand, I also had to kiss some shorthand declarations goodbye. Let’s say I use this shorthand for something like
margin: 1em 1.5em 2em 0.5em;
Those values get applied to
margin-left, not the logical equivalents (
inline-start). So separate declarations are needed instead:
Same goes for shorthand like this:
margin: 1em 2em;
That needs to be written as two declarations:
Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it feels really weird that you can’t use logical properties in media queries. Although as I said:
Now you could rightly argue that in this instance we’re talking about the physical dimensions of the viewport. So maybe width and height make more sense than inline and block.
But along comes the new kid on the block (or inline), container queries, ready to roll with
container-type values like
inline-size. I hope it’s just a matter of time until we can use logical properties in all our conditional queries.
The other place where there’s still a cognitive mismatch is in transforms and animations. We’ve got a
translateX() function but no
translate-inline(). We’ve got
translateY() but no
Oh, and one other thing: the
aspect-ratio property takes values in the form of
inline/block. That makes sense if you’re dealing with images, videos, or other embedded content but it makes it really tricky to use
aspect-ratio on elements that contain text. I mean, it works fine as long as the text is in a language using a top-to-bottom writing mode, but not for any other languages.
Monday, September 12th, 2022
Blog your heart! Blog about something you’ve learned, blog about something you’re interested in.
Excellent advice from Robin:
There are no rules to blogging except this one: always self-host your website because your URL, your own private domain, is the most valuable thing you can own. Your career will thank you for it later and no-one can take it away.
Thursday, September 8th, 2022
This piece by Giles is a spot-on description of what I do in my role as content buddy at Clearleft. Especially this bit:
Your editor will explain why things need changing
As a writer, it’s really helpful to understand the why of each edit. It’s easier to re-write if you know precisely what the problem is. And often, it’s less bruising to the ego. It’s not that you’re a bad writer, but just that one particular thing could be expressed more simply, or more clearly, than your first effort.
Tuesday, August 30th, 2022
Can you feel the energy?
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022
I have days were I can write a well researched blog post in a few hours. And I have days were I don’t feel like writing. Or I want to add one more thing but don’t know how to speak my mind. So this is a reminder to myself: just hit publish.
Wednesday, July 20th, 2022
Subscribing to newsletters
I like reading RSS feeds. I’ve written before about how my feed reader feels different to my email client:
When I open my RSS reader to catch up on the feeds I’m subscribed to, it doesn’t feel like opening my email client. It feels more like opening a book. And, yes, books are also things to be completed—a bookmark not only marks my current page, it also acts as a progress bar—but books are for pleasure. The pleasure might come from escapism, or stimulation, or the pursuit of knowledge. That’s a very different category to email, calendars, and Slack.
Giles put it far better when described what using RSS feeds feels like :
To me, using RSS feeds to keep track of stuff I’m interested in is a good use of my time. It doesn’t feel like a burden, it doesn’t feel like I’m being tracked or spied on, and it doesn’t feel like I’m just another number in the ads game.
To me, it feels good. It’s a way of reading the web that better respects my time, is more likely to appeal to my interests, and isn’t trying to constantly sell me things.
That’s why I feel somewhat conflicted about email newsletters. On the one hand, people are publishing some really interesting things in newsletters. On the hand, the delivery mechanism is email, which feels burdensome. Add tracking into the mix, and they can feel downright icky.
But never fear! My feed reader came to the rescue. Many newsletter providers also provide RSS feeds. NetNewsWire—my feed reader of choice—will try to find the RSS feed that corresponds to the newsletter. Hurrah!
I get to read newsletters without being tracked, which is nice for me. But I also think it would be nice to let the authors of those newsletters know that I’m reading. So here’s a list of some of the newsletters I’m currently subscribed to in my feed reader:
The Whippet by McKinley Valentine:
A newsletter for the terminally curious.
Sentiers by Patrick Tanguay:
A carefully curated selection of articles with thoughtful commentary on technology, society, culture, and potential futures.
Policy, ethics and applied rationality with an Irish slant.
How science shapes stories about the future and how stories about the future shape science.
Adjacent Possible by Steven Johnson:
Exploring where good ideas come from—and how to keep them from turning against us.
Faster, Please! by James Pethokoukis:
Discovering, creating, and inventing a better world through technological innovation, economic growth, and pro-progress culture.
undefended / undefeated by Sara Hendren:
Ideas at the heart of material culture—the everyday stuff in all our lives
Today in Tabs by Rusty Foster:
Your favorite newsletter’s favorite newsletter.
Sunday, July 17th, 2022
So to me, this blog represents the original promise of the open web.
The one that’s here, and still is here, and always has been here, and is available to you.
The one where you can speak the truths that you believe without the permission, or the editorial control, or the power dynamics, of anyone claiming to hold authority over you; or, perhaps, anyone keen to impose it.
Heather takes a break from her relentless crusading in favour of users against the idiocy of the UK government and reflects on the joy of doing it all from her own personal website.
And perhaps you should too, on your own blog, owned on your own hosting space, using your own words, and speaking your own truth. That sounds like a good little weekend project, don’t you think?
Thursday, July 14th, 2022
Procrastination and low motivation make productivity difficult. Body-doubling might help - ABC Everyday
I’ve done this and I can attest that it works, but I never knew it had a name.
Body-doubling is simply having another person in the room with you, working quietly alongside you. They can work on something similar, or something completely different.
Monday, July 11th, 2022
We have been seduced by Harari because of the power not of his truth or scholarship but of his storytelling. As a scientist, I know how difficult it is to spin complex issues into appealing and accurate storytelling. I also know when science is being sacrificed to sensationalism. Yuval Harari is what I call a “science populist.” (Canadian clinical psychologist and YouTube guru Jordan Peterson is another example.) Science populists are gifted storytellers who weave sensationalist yarns around scientific “facts” in simple, emotionally persuasive language. Their narratives are largely scrubbed clean of nuance or doubt, giving them a false air of authority—and making their message even more convincing. Like their political counterparts, science populists are sources of misinformation. They promote false crises, while presenting themselves as having the answers. They understand the seduction of a story well told—relentlessly seeking to expand their audience—never mind that the underlying science is warped in the pursuit of fame and influence.
Harari has seduced us with his storytelling, but a close look at his record shows that he sacrifices science to sensationalism, often makes grave factual errors, and portrays what should be speculative as certain.
Wednesday, June 29th, 2022
I’ve mentioned before that I like to read a mixture of fiction of non-fiction. In fact, I try to alternate between the two. If I’ve just read some non-fiction, then I’ll follow it with a novel and I’ve just read some fiction, then I’ll follow it with some non-fiction.
But those categorisations can be slippery. I recently read two books that were ostensibly fiction but were strongly autobiographical and didn’t have the usual narrative structure of a novel.
Just to clarify, I’m not complaining! Quite the opposite. I enjoy the discomfort of not being able to pigeonhole a piece of writing so easily.
Also, both books were excellent.
The first one was A Ghost In The Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa. It’s sort of about the narrator’s obsessive quest to translate the Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire. But it’s also about the translator’s life, which mirrors the author’s. And it’s about all life—life in its bodily, milky, bloody, crungey reality. The writing is astonishing, creating an earthy musky atmosphere. It feels vibrant and new but somehow ancient and eternal at the same time.
By contrast, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood is rooted in technology. Reading the book feels like scrolling through Twitter, complete with nervous anxiety. Again, the narrator’s life mirrors that of the author, but this time the style has more of the arch detachment of the modern networked world.
It took me a little while at first, but then I settled into the book’s cadence and vibe. Then, once I felt like I had a handle on the kind of book I was reading, it began to subtly change. I won’t reveal how, because I want you to experience that change for yourself. It’s like a slow-building sucker punch.
When I started reading No One Is Talking About This, I thought it might end up being the kind of book where I would admire the writing, but it didn’t seem like a work that invited emotional connection.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. I can’t remember the last time a book had such an emotional impact on me. Maybe that’s because it so deliberately lowered my defences, but damn, when I finished reading the book, I was in pieces.
Monday, June 20th, 2022
- Each voice is individual and matters
- Slow is ok
- Diversified and independent is good
- Not fitting a pattern is ok
- Not being easily commodified is ok
Wednesday, June 1st, 2022
How a writing system went from being a dream (literally) to a reality, codified in unicode.
Monday, May 30th, 2022
Saturday, May 28th, 2022
Prompted by my recent post on
alt text, Geoff shares some resources on the right length for
Wednesday, May 25th, 2022
I made the website for this year’s UX London by hand.
So it’s minium viable static site generation rather than actual static files. It’s still very hands-on though and I enjoy that a lot; editing HTML and CSS directly without intermediary tools.
When I update the site, it’s usually to add a new speaker to the line-up (well, not any more now that the line up is complete). That involves marking up their bio and talk description. I also create a couple of different sized versions of their headshot to use with
srcset. And of course I write an
alt attribute to accompany that image.
By the way, Jake has an excellent article on writing
alt text that uses the specific example of a conference site. It raises some very thought-provoking questions.
I enjoy writing
alt text. I recently described how I updated my posting interface here on my own site to put a
alt text front and centre for my notes with photos. Since then I’ve been enjoying the creative challenge of writing useful—but also evocative—
Some recent examples:
- Time to go play some songs with @SalterCane.
A close-up of a microphone in a practice room. In the background, a guitar player tunes up and a bass player waits to start.
- Brighton in the sun.
People sitting around in the dappled sunshine on the green grass in a park with the distinctive Indian-inspired architecture of the Brighton Pavilion in the background, all under a clear blue sky.
- Duck leg on white beans with sage, garlic, rosemary and olives.
Looking down on the crispy browned duck leg contrasting with the white beans, all with pieces of green fried herbs scattered throughout.
But when I was writing the
alt text for the headshots on the UX London site, I started to feel a little disheartened. The more speakers were added to the line-up, the more I felt like I was repeating myself with the
alt text. After a while they all seemed to be some variation on “This person looking at the camera, smiling” with maybe some detail on their hair or clothing.
- Videha Sharma
The beaming bearded face of Videha standing in front of the beautiful landscape of a riverbank.
- Candi Williams
Candi working on her laptop, looking at the camera with a smile.
- Emma Parnell
Emma smiling against a yellow background. She’s wearing glasses and has long straight hair.
- John Bevan
A monochrome portrait of John with a wry smile on his face, wearing a black turtleneck in the clichéd design tradition.
- Laura Yarrow
Laura smiling, wearing a chartreuse coloured top.
- Adekunle Oduye
A profile shot of Adekunle wearing a jacket and baseball cap standing outside.
The more speakers were added to the line-up, the harder I found it not to repeat myself. I wondered if this was all going to sound very same-y to anyone hearing them read aloud.
But then I realised, “Wait …these are kind of same-y images.”
By the very nature of the images—headshots of speakers—there wasn’t ever going to be that much visual variation. The experience of a sighted person looking at a page full of speakers is that after a while the images kind of blend together. So if the
alt text also starts to sound a bit repetitive after a while, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. A screen reader user would be getting an equivalent experience.
That doesn’t mean it’s okay to have the same
alt text for each image—they are all still different. But after I had that realisation I stopped being too hard on myself if I couldn’t come up with a completely new and original way to write the
And, I remind myself, writing
alt text is like any other kind of writing. The more you do it, the better you get.
Wednesday, May 18th, 2022
Glenn Davis of Project Cool’s Cool Site Of The Day from waaaay back in the day is writing his online memoirs.
Depending on when you got online, this will either bring back a lot of memories or sound like something from a different century (which technically it is).
Friday, May 6th, 2022
An opinionated blog about writing. I’ve subscribed in my feed reader.