Reading List

The reading list – a day early as I’m off to the taverns and love-dungeons of Brussels for the weekend to teach Belgians how to drink beer.

Reading List

Dear webdevs, from European Blind Union

Many of you lovely readers aren’t on Twitter 24/7, so heres’s a blog retweet. Or a “re-bleet” as I like to call it.

This was posted yesterday by the European Blind Union (“The voice of 30 million #blind and partially sighted people in Europe”)

In other words: yes, please use viewport meta to make content responsive. But don’t muck around with maximum-scale, minimum-scale, and user-scalable properties, as these restrict zooming.

Couldn’t be clearer, could it? We’ve been asked nicely, by those who are affected, so let’s not do it anymore.

Song: Imprecise and Infrared

I wrote a song in UK, Amsterdam and Barcelona, as part of my ‘Music for ecstatic dancing or fucking. Or just, you know, having a nice cup of tea to’ series. I recorded it with the aid of Shez, my old schoolfriend, bandmate and member of Silverlake, who did drums and bass and production.

I made a video for it. It may be NSFW if you work in a monastery or for Al Quaida (boobs).

The words:

Imprecise and Infrared,
you burn my brain, you broke my heart
The fire inside the words you said
almost split the world in half.
Sing as you like, sing as you love
– in music there’s no imprecision.
All of your colours are
flickering beyond my vision.

Today i don’t believe in searching
these days I believe in nothing
waiting while the world is turning
all around me.

Weave the sunlight in your hair
deadly red, bright colours shine.
All the world can come to stare
but find no words to define you.
imprecise, and infrared
– I feel your heat through all your winters.
Even though the words you said
lie in fragments, fractured, splintered.

Today i don’t believe in searching
these days I believe in nothing
waiting while the world is turning
all around me.

It’s burning all around me.
You’re always Imprecise and Infrared.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson, 2015

Review: Volpone, Royal Shakespeare Company

Volpone at RSC was very good last night. Sometimes the pacing was a little wobbly (mostly in the courtroom scenes), and Henry Goodman fluffed a line or two, but it was only the second performance. Goodman’s big set piece – Volpone pretending to be an Italian snakeoil peddlar – was hilarious (and he accused me of being a Norwegian from the stage in an audience participation section).

It’s a Ben Jonson play, so all of the characters are ciphers (and named according to type: Volpone the fox, Sir Politic Would-be, Corvino the crow etc) so don’t expect deep psychology, but more the Jonson parade of fools, monsters and freaks. The drawf, hermaphrodite and eunuch were excellent, and Trevor Nunn’s direction setting it in the Facebook and selfie era was inspired.

Reading List

On labelling NHS prescriptions with their real cost

Jeremy Hunt announced that all medicines costing over £20 will be marked “funded by the UK tax payer”. Fair enough. I’m happy to pay my taxes to help those who are sick. I call this idea “civilisation”. But it’s right that people understand where the money comes from.

Similarly, I trust that every sleeping member of the House of Lords wear a sign around their necks saying “My attendance today cost 7.5 medicines”; every ministerial breakfast be costed in terms of the number of life-saving drugs that could have been supplied but weren’t, because croissants were more important; every MP’s hotel room that isn’t the cheapest one on laterooms.com have a similar advisory notice on the wall and the receipt. GCHQ should have a sign outside saying “spying on you today cost 1 million prescriptions”.

That would be fair, because we’re all in it together. Aren’t we?

Edge Conf: notes on User Queries

Edge Conference is basically like TPAC for web developers, so there are always great hallway and pub chats sparked by the main speeches. I’ll write up the breakout session that my boss, Andreas Bovens gave on Installable Web Apps/ Progressive Apps (the jury is out on the preferred name) tomorrow, but there was another interesting conversation I was asked about, so here goes.

In the CSS breakout session (which I didn’t attend) the idea of user queries was discussed. Orde Saunders wrote it up:

The twitter pitch for user queries is: “Like media queries but for user preferences.” … With user queries there would be a number of settings available in the user agent. Presented via a settings UI these would allow users to set certain preferences that were then made available in the runtime in the way media queries provide information about the user agent.

One problem with this is the classic web dev chicken-and-egg problem. Web developers wouldn’t use it until it’s in browsers, browser makers wouldn’t add it until consumers requested it, and consumers won’t request it because they don’t know it’s (theoretically) possible.

Another problem is that most developers wouldn’t care enough to add something to stylesheets that reacted to an expressed user preference for high contrast like this:

@user (contrast: high) {
  background-color: white;
  color: black;
}

and consumers wouldn’t bother expressing preferences if only a handful of sites took note of them.

The proper place for acting on user preferences, I think, is in the browser rather than in the stylesheets of individual sites. We’ve seen the latter experiment in the early 2000s in which some sites gave a method of upping the font size on their sites and remembering the user choice with a cookie. But this only worked for that site. So browsers and operating systems provided a mechanism for zooming, or over-riding the author stylesheets and imposing a minimum font size for all sites.

There are many examples of this: night mode settings that reverse colours; Opera Mini’s image quality setting that will always choose the lowest-quality image, regardless of what <picture> and srcset say, in order to save bandwidth (or even download no images at all); mouse gestures for those who prefer to browse that way; settings to avoid auto-start media; extensions that spoof location to get over location-based content blocking. or block advertising. These work on all sites, regardless of whether the developer cares about user preferences.

And I declare an interest here: I work for a browser vendor and such settings are exactly the kind of personalisation and UX enhancements that we compete on, now we’ve seen the light and stopped building nonsensical proprietary web “standards” to lock users in.

Reading List

Progressive Apps and bikeshedding with Alex Russell

In the corridor track at Velocity Conference, Santa Clara, I had a natter with international glamourpuss Alex Russell about Installable Web Apps/ HTML Manifest and Opera’s forthcoming implementation on Android. Alex has elegantly written his thoughts down in Progressive Apps: Escaping Tabs Without Losing Our Soul. Go and read it, because he’s absolutely right, except for one thing.

The name. He was so close:

Frances called them “Progressive Open Web Apps” and we both came around to just “Progressive Apps”. They existed before, but now they have a name.

“Progressive Open Web Apps” makes the satisfying acronym “POWA”. Enthused and infused with the mightiness of HTML App Manifest, Add to Homescreen and Web App Install banners, I went to the Marvel comics’ Superhero generator and gave them a mascot for the collective pusissance. Meet…The POWA-arranger:

POWA arranger

I jest, of course. Doesn’t matter to me what they’re called. A good user experience, and all the power of URLs and the Web is what matters to me. As Alex writes

Building immersive apps using web technology no longer requires giving up the web itself.

Stay tuned for an announcement about this functionality in Opera for Android. Product Manager Andreas Bovens will be leading a breakout session about installable web apps at Edge Conference London on 27th July. I’ll be there too, to straighten his tie, warm his microphone and shake my pom-poms.

Whether or not you’ll attend in person (it’ll be streamed and recorded) feel free to add questions or discussion points.