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The Girl In The Room

The last vanity song for a while, I promise — and this one’s definitely not punk. In my defence, it started life as fucked-folk, like “Femme Fatale” by the Velvet Underground. But as the lyrics firmed up, I started thinking about a serenade (“a musical greeting performed for a lover… an evening piece, one to be performed on a quiet and pleasant evening”) as that’s what the lyrics are about, albeit with a bittersweetness not reflected in the arrangement.

It was written in Cambodia and Barcelona. I wrote an alternate third verse which I don’t remember, and I don’t have the handwritten draft any more. If I do remember, I’ll record it in fucked-folk style.

Footage of the girl is from “Weg zum Nachbarn” by Lutz Mommartz, 1968.

The girl in the room
talks at dusk of musk and sandalwood
Of warm winter mornings
and cool summer nights.
Telling tales without tomorrows
of her yesterdays and ancient times;
of a castle in the birch trees
in the calmness of twilight.

The girl in the room
is thunder-lightning: fiercely beautiful;
weighed down with words, then musical,
with her faces in her moon.
She asks if you could love her
and before you can recover
she needs to be somewhere or other.
Through the trees, the breeze sings tunes.

The girl in the room
talks at sunset in her box of text,
of monsoon rain and games and sex
and the ruins where bluebells bloom.
Lost in feelings like a forest,
there are no certain maps to happiness;
She spills wine on her Chinese dress,
and the breeze brings you tunes.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson, 2015

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Anachronistic Beard: a new methodology to make sites work anywhere

[The stage is bare. A single spotlight snaps on. Into it walks Bruce, in a black turtleneck top]

Are you ready, folks? [Apple WWDC-style whoops and squeaks]

Are you READY folks? [Shouts of “Yeah!” and “Righteous!”]

Do you want your websites to work EVERYWHERE? [people faint with excitement]

Are you ready to have your PARADIGMS SHIFTED? [Not a dry seat in the house now]

Today, we’re introducing a brand-new paradigm-shifting design methodology called…

Anachronistic Beard.


Logo: “Beard” By

What is “Anachronistic Beard”?

It’s a revolutionary way of making websites so they look good in iOS 9 with external fonts turned off, work well for Opera Mini’s 250+ million users, and in Chrome, Opera, Firefox, IE, Edge, whether you’re using a computer, a phone, a tablet, a phablet (you’re not, are you?), with or without assistive technology.

How can I leverage these game-changing synergies, going forward?

Glad you asked! Here are the technical details.

Why is it called “Anachronistic Beard”?

A previous version of Anachronistic Beard has been available, built into the very design of the web, for decades. But it was called “Progressive Enhancement”, which is boring, and it didn’t have a logo.

So, encouraged by the success of things like Moustache, it’s been rebranded by a team of expensive Birmingham-based Consumer Insight Engineers. With this new name, those of us who are too old to be hipsters can legitimately claim that we were doing Progressive Enhancement, before it was cool.

Join our revolution, before everyone else hears about it. Happy Bearding!

State of the Browser 5

My conference season kicked off with State of the Browser 5. I’d been accepted after a blind call for papers to present the snappily-titled Ensuring a performant web for the next billion people.

The venue was Conway Hall, which I’d heard of but couldn’t remember the context. It turned out to be the HQ of the Conway Hall Ethical Society, “the oldest surviving freethought organisation in the world”. So a historic venue (for bleeding-heart Guardianistas like me) with great acoustics and “To thine own self be true” inscribed above the stage.

State of the Browser this year had a wide variety of talks; from Seb Lee-Delisle amiably talking about lasers to Martin Jakl talking about WebKit’s garbage collection bugs on Raspberry Pi, with animation jank, keeping learning and modular design in between.

I enjoyed all the talks, but there were some standouts for me (not because any talks were “better” but some were more immediately useful to me in my browser geek-end of the spectrum). I want to congratulate Laura Elizabeth, who did her first ever public speaking with assurance and aplomb that suggested much more experience. There were shocks, too: for example, non-Jake Archibald people talking about Service Worker.

I was particularly agog/ aghast at Edd Sowden’s talk on what makes a <table> not a <table> in assistive technologies. There are lots if heuristics baked into browsers to guess which are data and which are layout tables. border-bottom and background-color makes it a table, border-collapse stops it being a table, display:block stops it being one (except in IE…). More than 20 rows, or zebra striping in CSS makes it a table, etcetera.

Here’s the video (and here are his slides):

Isn’t it tremendous that the UK government cares about assistive tech users on its new web properties?

I also learned a lot from Ada Rose Edwards who surprised me by explaining that reflowing text, if you animate widths of things that cause the browser to re-layout lots of words, is really slow – because of kerning, hinting etc. See her slides for more (video coming soon). I’d assumed because text is small (eg, 1024 letters of Latin text is 1K) that there’s no performance hit. But laying it out isn’t trivial. Throw justification into the mix, too (but please don’t) and you have a recipe for a hot phone battery.

There were lots of old chums in the audience, and new chums like Seren Davis and Claudia. Synergies were leveraged, too – I’ve got an Opera bug moving after being gently prompted by an attendee. There was even a party afterwards, with a free bar, and all for £30. So go next year!

State of the Browser is organised for love by the London Web Standards crew: Morena Fiore, Nick Smith, Dave Letorey, Ginestra Ferraro, Steve Workman, Rupert Bowater and Marco Cedaro. Morena wrote up the day too. Thanks very much to all of them, and all who came to listen.

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The noisiest song I’ve writen for ages. Drums! A weedy trebly riff and five (count ’em!) dirty, dirty guitar lines. And no girly cello or mincing harpsichords, just a snakey riff with a good groove around a Gm chord, and a stonking chorus (though I immodestly say so myself). The chords in the chorus are a reasonably conventional Bb, F, Ab, Gm. But then it wanders down to Gb before returning to Gm, which is probably illegal in territories signed up to the Geneva musical convention. Check with a music lawyer before listening.

This was written in Cambodia and UK. An Apsara is a “beautiful, supernatural female being. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing .. often depicted taking flight”. The line about “dust and semen” is purloined from Auden’s poem September 1, 1939: “I, composed like them/ Of Eros and of dust”. “I was happy, I was sad” is borrowed from Beethoven’s letter to his Immortal Beloved “Your love makes me at once most happy and most unhappy”.

I once heard the thunder
and the love songs that the storm screams.
I’m dumb-struck with wonder
at how you plunder and invade and occupy my dreams.
I ask no questions;
I won’t understand the answers they bring.
I do not hope
for I dare not hope for anything.

Goodbye, Apsara:
your dance was much too beautiful to bear.
I watched you wash your hair;
I was happy, I was sad and I was scared-not-scared.
You don’t care; nobody’s there.

I can find no meaning
in the minutes that limit and diminish my soul.
I’m just made of dust and semen;
I was dying, I was dead, and I want to be whole.
I ask for nothing
nothing comes from nothing and I’d always want more.
I’d forgotten loving
and you’ve got jasmine in your hair, you’ve got a world to explore.

Fly now, Apsara:
your dance was much too beautiful to bear.
In Kambuja
between future and the past I dared not dare.
You’re not there. There’s nothing to share.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson 2015

(Here’s a totally different song called Apsara by Roger Doyle which is all new age and trancey. Good stuff.)

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A song I started writing 17 years ago in Pokhara, Nepal and finished this year in UK. (Actually, the crappy 1st draft lyrics I have were in my ’98 jotter, but I got a message from bassist of my university band who says “I can remember us doing a prototype of ‘bluegreenkiss’ in 1986”, so it’s my oldest new song ever.)

I sat on it for two decades because for years I wasn’t sure if I’d accidentally stolen the melody – the previous song I’d presented to the band turned out to be mostly The Beatles’ “All My Loving”, so I was pretty paranoid about anything I wrote outside my usual “one two three four!” punky genre. For ages I played it on my acoustic guitar to girlfriends, other musicians and the postman (once) to ask them if they recognised it.

The phrase “Look at the way she..” was what I found myself singing when I first wrote it, but the lyrics were written much later in Turkey (where I lived in a fisherman’s cottage near the sea) and Nepal (where I went horse-riding up a mountain, which had trees though it wasn’t a forest). Hence the hippie/huggy lyrics. The line “She sometimes says what she means / I hope I can do this too” is because I tweaked the words to make absolutely sure that the person they’re written for never realises it’s about her. Self-expression’s one thing, but actually telling someone what you think of them is ludicrously risky.

It’s about people who are gone, and trying to record the physical aspects of their presence – colours and activities – to preserve memories of the moments they were with me. To those who inspired it, thank you, wherever you are. (Tennyson, In Memoriam, XXVII)

There are those who would say it’s not sufficiently punk. Of course it’s punk – I fucking wrote it. QED.

Look at the way she
kisses me gently;
Look how this simple act
brings my brain ease.

She’ll never try to please;
She needs the world to see she is free.
I’m proud but I’m sad for this too.

Look at the way she
walks through the forest.
Look how the leaf-light
glows her old white blouse green.

She aways dances and dreams;
she sometimes says what she means;
I hope I can do this too.

Look at the way she
swims in the ocean.
Look how the rivers’ swell
flows into her.

For all her wrecks and her tides,
She’s in love with her life;
I hope she can love me too.

But look at the way she’s
kissing me gently

Words and music © Bruce Lawson, all rights reserved.
Drums, bass and remixing by Shez of the band Silverlake.
More music at

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