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Thursday, 1 September 2016

BBC Radio 4 - Codes that Changed the World

Aleks Krotoski is back on Radio 4 with a terrific series of short programmes on some of the programming languages that changed the world. Languages covered are Fortran, COBOL, BASIC, Java and functional languages. My favourite is the BASIC one, which is described on the show as the punk rock of programming languages.

Don't miss the audio tracks linked on this page, either. They're great. They remind me a little of Still Alive by the brilliant Jonathan Coulton.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Why don't we trust experts?

For me and my friends it seems incomprehensible to ignore the facts, whether about the science of vaccination, or the law and economics of leaving the EU. But me and my friends do very well from the status quo- the Treasury, the Bar, the University work well for us. We know who these people are, we know how they work, and we trust them because we feel they are working for us, in some wider sense. People who voted Leave do suffer from a lack of trust, and my best guess is that this is a reflection of a belief that most authorities aren’t on their side, not because they necessarily reject their status as experts.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Position Wanted: Front-End Director

One of those why didn't I think of that moments from Jeffrey. In the web industry, we so desperately need empowered individuals who take ahold of the frontend reins in a strategic, holistic way.

So here’s a thought, big orgs. Instead of throwing a thousand front-end developers at your problem and seeing what sticks, consider creating a front-end director position as empowered as any other director at your organization.

A web for everyone

Jeremy wrote a great piece (again) on progressive enhancement, and how it's often misunderstood.

I think I understand why Ola reacted so strongly to the suggestion that offline functionality should be added as an enhancement. I’ve seen the same reaction when I’ve said that beautiful typography on the web is an enhancement. I think that when I say something is an enhancement, what people hear is that something is just an enhancement. It sounds belittling. That’s not my intention, but I can understand how it could come across like that. Perhaps this is one reason why some people have a real issue with the term “progressive enhancement”.

I had my own little moment of progressive enhancement delight just today. Due to an obscure DNS error at our ISP, it meant JavaScript hosted on our CDN was not loading for some people. Our site is, like so many others, an essential sales channel. People make purchases through it. The upshot of JavaScript failing to load was that the add to basket buttons were failing to do their AJAX thing. Potentially disastrous, right?

Here's the good part: because those buttons are progressively enhanced, clicking on one meant the page refreshed and added the item to the basket anyway, despite the JavaScript failure. The experience was a bit more clunky for the user, but hey, it didn't completely blow up on them and we were still able to take orders. We didn't receive a single complaint as far as I know.

That in a nutshell is what makes progressive enhancement so essential. It's insurance. It's a failsafe. It just makes good business sense.

Also: is a shopping cart a web app or a web site?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The sugar conspiracy

In 1972, a British scientist sounded the alarm that sugar – and not fat – was the greatest danger to our health. But his findings were ridiculed and his reputation ruined. How did the world’s top nutrition scientists get it so wrong for so long?

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

An interesting look at the manipulative psychology employed by designers in the tech industry, along with a reflection on the ethics and some suggestions on how we might do things better. I don't see any tech companies adopting these suggestions, though. Not without regulation.

Instead, imagine if technology companies empowered you to consciously bound your experience to align with what would be “time well spent” for you. Not just bounding the quantity of time you spend, but the qualities of what would be “time well spent.”

I particularly like this:

In an ideal world, apps would always give you a direct way to get what you want separately from what they want.

The humble hyperlink, at your service. Support URLs.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Developers can run Bash Shell and user-mode Ubuntu Linux binaries on Windows 10

I just wanted to mark this rather seismic news. Anyone who's tried to run developer software that originates on *nix can attest to the fact that it's often a gnarly, sub-standard experience on Windows. This new piece of magic from Microsoft and Canonical blows all that gnarl out of the water. Windows is getting very interesting again. This new Microsoft is exhilarating.