The Web is going to get faster in the very near future.

It won’t be because some giant company created something great, though they probably have. The Web will be getting faster very soon because a small group of developers saw a problem and decided to solve it for all of us.

The story of the Picture element isn’t just an interesting tale of Web developers working together to make the Web a better place. It’s also a glimpse at the future. The separation between those who build the Web and those who create Web standards is disappearing. The W3C’s community groups are growing, and sites like Move the Web Forward aim to help bridge the gap between developer ideas and standards bodies.

How a new HTML element will make the Web faster http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/09/how-a-new-html-element-will-make-the-web-faster/2/

No tool will save you from that. None. Everything will be out of control as soon as it’s scaled to more than a prototype, because control isn’t even 10% about the tools, but awareness about the impact of hundreds of small decisions, which requires real knowledge about the subject domain. It’s about forging and sharpening that awareness through a mentality that embraces constant refactoring, while always trying to make the better decisions right now.

Julio Ody – http://julio-ody.tumblr.com/post/82957538258/we-have-an-education-problem

Blue sky thinking about SVG and angular

It’s been a while since I created RaphCon, a little mashup library based on jQuery and Raphael.js, that let’s you create and animate vector icons (See the vector icons on shuttlestudio.de for a little demo). With the recent hype around Web Components and the renaissance of a more declarative approach to UI web frameworks (e.g. angular.js, polymer.js or x-tag) I thought about revisiting the idea of animatable vector graphics inside the browser.

Additionally I’ve also been working with UI technologies like XAML recently. Just like the concept of data binding that has been adopted by the open web recently I think one can also learn some lessons from this technology stack when it comes to working with vector graphics. So I asked myself: Is it possible to do similar stuff inside the browser with the help of SVG, especially inline SVG?

What I like about inline SVG

  • Of course SVG graphics can be scaled in size. So they’re a good format when it comes to surviving the big wave of high resolution displays becoming mainstream. As they’re included inside the HTML they can also be manipulated via JavaScript.
  • Inline SVG can also easily be styled and animated with the help of CSS. Changing colors dynamically, transforming and translating subpaths. You name it.
  • It’s even possible to embed bitmap images as base64  strings
  • SVG filters. This gives you a tool set to apply photoshop like effects to SVG graphics.

My initial idea was to use polymer as a polyfill for being able to create custom HTML elements that could enable to describe interactive vector graphics and icons…

However after playing with polymer for a little while I started to run into problems. The examples didn’t work as expected and I wasn’t able to create custom tags that communicated with each other as easily as I expected. So I switched to angular.js to bootstrap my ideas.

A very rough proof of concept

I started to sketch out some ideas in code. The first idea was to create a custom icon tag that let’s you specify icon-states as children. These states could be triggered by JavaScript events like ‘mouseover, mouseleave, touchstart’.

<icon width="128" height="128">
  <icon-state triggers="default mouseleave">
    <svg>
        ...
    </svg>
  </icon-state>
  <icon-state triggers="mouseenter">
    <svg>
        ...
    </svg>
  </icon-state>
</ng-ollie-icon-state>

The result: ng-ollie

I’ve created a little angular module called ng-ollie (to pay tribute to Ollie Johnston). I’ve put together a very simple demo gist to illustrate the concept. I’ve absolutely no idea where this will end up if I’m able to find the time I’ll try to play with it. Feedback is highly appreciated!

 

Quote from “The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse”

Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century | Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Interior_of_a_London_Coffee-house,_17th_century.JPG

Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century | Source: wikipedia.org

On the social impact of coffeehouses

“Remember — until the mid-seventeenth century, most people in England were either slightly — or very — drunk all of the time. Drink London’s fetid river water at your own peril; most people wisely favoured watered-down ale or beer. The arrival of coffee, then, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering: all burst into life in 17th-century coffeehouses.”

A look inside a coffeehouse:

“As the image shows, customers sat around long communal tables strewn with every type of media imaginable listening in to each other’s conversations, interjecting whenever they pleased, and reflecting upon the newspapers. Talking to strangers, an alien concept in most coffee shops today, was actively encouraged.”

Change, openness and free exchange of information cause fear amongst the ruling class:

“Charles II, a longtime critic, tried to torpedo them by royal proclamation in 1675. Traditionally, informed political debate had been the preserve of the social elite. But in the coffeehouse it was anyone’s business — that is, anyone who could afford the measly one-penny entrance fee.”

Source: “The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse” by Dr Matthew Green published on publicdomainreview.org

Benjamin Bratton: “What’s Wrong with TED Talks?”

Stumbled across a talk by Benjamin Bratton that shares an interesting perspective on TED. To me it’s also a stimulating comment on the increasing bubble of design-thinking, placebo-innovation and increasing shallowness of social-media.

“Perhaps the pinnacle of placebo politics and innovation was featured at TEDx San Diego in 2011. You’re familiar I assume with Kony2012, the social media campaign to stop war crimes in central Africa? So what happened here? Evangelical surfer bro goes to help kids in Africa. He makes a campy video explaining genocide to the cast of Glee. The world finds his public epiphany to be shallow to the point of self-delusion. The complex geopolitics of central Africa are left undisturbed. Kony’s still there. The end.

You see, when inspiration becomes manipulation, inspiration becomes obfuscation. If you are not cynical you should be sceptical. You should be as sceptical of placebo politics as you are placebo medicine.”

Source: theguardian.com

I found this particular part of his speech to be very much to the point:

“The potential for these technologies are both wonderful and horrifying at the same time, and to make them serve good futures, design as “innovation” just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as “immunisation,” actively preventing certain potential “innovations” that we do not want from happening.”

Source: theguardian.com

I really would like to see the field of design (rapid-prototyping, visual storytelling, …) to be used as a tool to evaluate technological possibilities. Rather than being used as an instrument to manipulate and to beautify technology without questioning its range of application.

Sources:

It’s much more possible that other countries around the world who are truly indignant about the breaches of their privacy security will band together and create alternatives, either in terms of infrastructure, or legal regimes that will prevent the United States from exercising hedgemony over the Internet or make the cost of doing so far too high. I think, even more promising is the fact that large private corporations, Internet companies and others will start finally paying a price for their collaboration with this spying regime.

What the outcome of this conflict is, what the Internet ultimately becomes really is not answerable in any definitive way now. It depends so much on what it is that we, as human beings, do. One of the most pressing questions is whether people like the ones who are in this room, and the people who have the skills that you have, now and in the future, will succumb to those temptations, and go to work for the very entities that are attempting to destroy privacy around the world, or whether you will put your talents, skills and resources, to defending human beings from those invasions, and continuing to create effective technologies to protect our privacy. I am very optimistic, because that power does lie in your hands.

Glenn Greenwald – Excerpt from the keynote of 30th Chaos Communication Congress

But why do we need “smart” watches or face-mounted computers like Google Glass? They have radically different hardware and software needs than smartphones, yet they don’t offer much more utility. They’re also always with you, but not significantly more than smartphones. They come with major costs in fashion and creepiness. They’re yet more devices that need to be bought, learned, maintained, and charged every night. Most fatally, nearly everything they do that has mass appeal and real-world utility can be done by a smartphone well enough or better. And if we’ve learned anything in the consumer-tech business, it’s that “good enough” usually wins.

Marco Ament – Smart watches and computers on your face

How did JavaScript kick Java’s ass?

Stumbled across a tweet from Brendan Eich today that featured a link to an interview about JavaScript back from 2008. Studying the past can lead to interesting things so I decided to read along. One paragraph caught my interest…

“We saw Java as the ‘component language’ used by higher-priced programmers, where the glue programmers — the Web page designers — would assemble components and automate their interactions using JS.

This division of labor across the programming pyramid fosters greater innovation than alternatives that require all programmers to use the ‘real’ programming language (Java or C++) instead of the ‘little’ scripting language.”

Well, the times are changing. I wouldn’t consider JavaScript being a little scripting language these days. And with Web Components, one of the latest additions, to the browser ecosystem this vision of glueing components together will somehow come true. But without the main player people envisioned back then, without Java. I found this to be interesting and I would like to understand the mechanics behind this change? How exactly did JavaScript kick Java’s ass?

Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to dive into comparing the two languages. It’s not what interests me at all. It has probably been discussed on stackoverflow a thousand times. The question that I would like to think about is: How could this little scripting language oust another language which was somehow considered superior back then? Hm, what about…

Ease of use

No compiler. No SDK or JDK. No Classes. Scripts just run in this thing called browser. You can even just open the console and start manipulating a web page. Getting up and running is so much easier with JavaScript. I think this factor is underestimated a lot and it’s one of the reasons for the success of the Processing platform. It enables people who just want to start creating to do so.

Focus on UI and interaction

Java didn’t take the user interface seriously. Creating awesome user interfaces in Java has always been a pain. There where different libraries (Swing, AWT, etc.) that you could not customize at all. How in the world would you create a Web Component with the help of a Java applet? Good luck. In JavaScript land things were a bit different. The declarative style of HTML and CSS prove to be a good fit for creating UIs. JavaScript just added a little spice on top of it.

So what does that all mean?

Well, I actually don’t really know. Maybe I’m just happy that we (hopefully) agreed on JavaScript being the standard language for UI-Coding of the future and we can now move on to solve the real problems. At least that’s what I hope.

Leaving tumblr…

Today I’m leaving tumblr. It’s been a hard decision but I think its time to move on. I still believe tumblr is an amazing and inspiring platform but there are three main reasons for saying goodbye.

  1. It has become increasingly hard to export my data from tumblr. The awesome Mac Backup tool faded away silently and there is no equivalent feature on the site itself. This might seem like a valuable business decision for the tumblr team to keep their users inside their ecosystem. But not being able to create a backup of my content just doesn’t feel right. I’d like to own content and it’s my hope that in the future more and more webservices will respect that need. For now I’d like to follow the POSSE principle (Publish on my Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere). We’ll see how this will work out.
  2. Overwhelmed by social network noise I would like to focus on creating instead of consuming. Maybe focus a bit more on writing instead of following. I still plan to use Twitter (and maybe tumblr) as source of inspiration. Again we’ll see how this will work out.
  3. WordPress 3.8 has been released. The admin UI and the new standard theme look awesome. Although theming and fumbling with PHP still feels bulky I love its open source ethos, its community and its makers. So I guess I’d like to play around with it.

So thank you tumblr, you’ve been a great companion since my first post in 2008. But it’s time for a change. Stay foolish. Never settle.

If we really care about the next generation becoming hackers and makers, not just consumers, we need to reject Apple’s bullshit, reject Micorsoft’s (decreasingly relevant) bullshit, and focus on open systems. This doesn’t have to be Android. Ubuntu Phone looks promising, Firefox OS might not be more Mozilla vaporware, and Jolla looks incredibly promising.

Hunter-gatherers have nothing akin to school. Adults believe that children learn by observing, exploring, and playing, and so they afford them unlimited time to do that.

The Sudbury Valley School and a hunter-gatherer band are very different from one another in many ways, but they are similar in providing what I see as the essential conditions for optimising children’s natural abilities to educate themselves. They share the social expectation (and reality) that education is children’s responsibility, not something that adults do to them, and they provide unlimited freedom for children to play, explore, and pursue their own interests. They also provide ample opportunities to play with the tools of the culture; access to a variety of caring and knowledgeable adults, who are helpers, not judges; and free age-mixing among children and adolescents (age-mixed play is more conducive to learning than play among those who are all at the same level). Finally, in both settings, children are immersed in a stable, moral community, so they acquire the values of the community and a sense of responsibility for others, not just for themselves.

The practice of taking an intentional break from technology and civilization is probably as old as technology and civilization. But it seems increasingly urgent now, in an era when the Internet—and thus most of the planet—is as close as an iPhone. We go to seek waldeinsamkeit, as the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson described it—the feeling of being alone in the woods.

The phone isn’t the problem. The problem is us—our inability to step away from email and games and inessential data, our inability to look up, be it at an alpine lake or at family members. We won’t be able to get away from it all for very much longer. So it’s vitally important that each of us learns how to live with a persistent connection, everywhere we go, whether it’s in the wilderness or at a dinner party.

Technological Disobedience

Technological Disobedience – I really like this term. Originally coined by Ernesto Oroza to describe the inventive talent of Cubans during a sad but ingeniously creative period of Cuban history.

“People think beyond the normal capacities of an object, and try to surpass the limitations that it imposes on itself.”
Ernesto Oroza on MotherboardTV

“The accumulation of products led workers to radically question industrial processes and mechanisms. They started looking at objects not with the eyes of an
engineer but those of an artisan. Every object could potentially be repaired or reused, even in a different context from its original design. Accumulation separated the object from the Western intent and lifecycle it was destined for. This is technological disobedience.”
Ernestor Oroza on mkshft.org

“After opening, breaking, repairing, and using them so often at their convenience, the makers ultimately disregarded the signs that make occidental objects a unity, a closed identity. Cubans do not fear the emanating authority that brands like Sony, Swatch, or even NASA, command. If something is broken, it will be fixed—somehow. If it could even be conceived as usable to repair other objects, they might as well save it, either in parts or in its entirety. A new future awaits.“
Ernestor Oroza on mkshft.org

Opening things up. Manipulating things. Turning things upside down. Using objects in ways the original creators not even dreamed of. This is the kind of spirit we should be teaching kids at our schools. Program or be programmed!

Sources:

oreillymedia:

Janken Robot beat humans 100% of the time.

From our “Skynet has become self-aware” folder, the University of Tokyo has posted a new video about it’s Janken robot (Janken is the Japanese version of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and in their culture it is taken a bit more seriously). They first posted about their robot about a year ago, but a new video touting a much increased speed (around one millisecond?) in recognizing and reacting to the opposing human players choice. With this incredible ability to recognize nearly instantly, what other applications could a robot like this be used for? Read more about the robot from popular Science here.