Regarding the Thoughtful Cultivation of the Archived Internet

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With 20+ years of kottke.org archives, I’ve been thinking about this issue [continuing to host old content that no longer reflects its authors views] as well. There are many posts in the archive that I am not proud of. I’ve changed my mind in some cases and no longer hold the views attributed to me in my own words. I was too frequently a young and impatient asshole, full of himself and knowing it all. I was unaware of my privilege and too frequently assumed things of other people and groups that were incorrect and insensitive. I’ve amplified people and ideas in the past that I wouldn’t today.

Very much this! As another blogger with a 20+ year archive, I often find myself wondering how much of an impression of me is made upon my readers by some of my older posts, and what it means to retain them versus the possibility – never yet exercised – of deleting them. I certainly have my fair share of posts that don’t represent me well or that are frankly embarrassing, in hindsight!

I was thinking about this recently while following a thread on BoardGameGeek in which a poster advocated for the deletion of a controversial article from the site because, as they said:

…people who stumble on our site and see this game listed could get a very (!!!) bad impression of the hobby…

This is a similar concern: a member of an online community is concerned that a particular piece of archived content does not reflect well on them. They don’t see any way in which the content can be “fixed”, and so they propose that it is removed from the community. Parallels can be drawn to the deletionist faction within Wikipedia (if you didn’t know that Wikipedia had large-scale philosophical disputes before now, you’re welcome: now go down the meta-wiki rabbit hole).

As for my own blog, I fall on the side of retention: it’s impossible to completely “hide” my past by self-censorship anyway as there’s sufficient archives and metadata to reconstruct it, and moreover it feels dishonest to try. Instead, though, I do occasionally append rebuttals to older content – where I’ve time! – to help contextualise them and show that they’re outdated. I’ve even considered partially automating this by e.g. adding a “tag” that I can rapidly apply to older posts that haven’t aged well which would in turn add a disclaimer to the top of them.

Cool URIs don’t change. But the content behind them can. The fundamental message ought to be preserved, where possible, and so appending and retaining history seems to be a more-valid approach than wholesale deletion.

A History of Automobiles and Colour before the Age of Chromophobia

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There is a distinct lack of coloration in today’s automobiles, with the majority seemingly finished in a shade that could be found on a greyscale chart. Things are no better in the interior; nearly always black, beige or grey, colours that architectural and couture designers refer to as neutrals. To make matters worse, these shades are all too often matched to the exterior pigment (i.e. black with black, silver with grey) to create insidious and mind-numbing monochrome vehicles that appear to have simply been dipped whole into a large vat of colourant.

Delahaye

1937 Delahaye 135, ivory and navy blue with dark red leather

Things were not always this gloomy. From the dawn of motoring through the 1920s, cars were painted in a full spectrum of colours, often in vivid combinations. The world’s first motor vehicle, the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen was green, with its fully-exposed engine finished in bright red. At the Villa d’Este or Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance one sees a veritable riot of colour that would likely be a bit shocking to today’s consumers: black with orange, yellow with orange, dark and light blue, dark and light green, red with blue, maroon with red; the palette was limitless.

I’m not even remotely “into” cars but I loved this article… and I do think that it’s a bit of a shame that cars don’t exhibit the variety of colour that they used to, any longer. As a kid, I remember that the old chap who lived on the other side of our street kept a remarkably old-fashioned but regal looking car (I’ve no idea what it was: I was only very young) in racing green with maroon trim and leather, and chrome window frames. I used to think how cool it was that he got to have a car that was so distinctive and unusual, because it was already rare to see things that didn’t just fit into the same boxy, bland palettes. Since then, things have only gotten worse: I can’t remember the time that my daily commute took me past a car that wasn’t painted in an all-encompassing single-colour coat of metallic black, white, silver, red, or blue and with interior plastic entirely in one of two shades of dark grey.

Hopefully it’s just a phase that we, as a society, are going through.

Man angry his photo was used to prove all hipsters look alike – then learns it wasn’t him

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Picture of a hipster used by MIT Technology Review

A man threatened to sue a technology magazine for using his image in a story about why all hipsters look the same, only to find out the picture was of a completely different guy.

The original article was pretty interesting, too.

The “Backendification” of Frontend Development

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a post

Asynchronous JavaScript in the form of Single Page Applications (SPA) offer an incredible opportunity for improving the user experience of your web applications. CSS frameworks like Bootstrap enable developers to quickly contribute styling as they’re working on the structure and behaviour of things.

Unfortunately, SPA and CSS frameworks tend to result in relatively complex solutions where traditionally separated concerns – HTML-structure, CSS-style, and JS-behaviour – are blended together as a matter of course — Counter to the lessons learned by previous generations.

This blending of concerns can prevent entry level developers and valued specialists (Eg. visual design, accessibility, search engine optimization, and internationalization) from making meaningful contributions to a project.

In addition to the increasing cost of the few developers somewhat capable of juggling all of these concerns, it can also result in other real world business implications.

What is a front-end developer? Does anybody know, any more? And more-importantly, how did we get to the point where we’re actively encouraging young developers into habits like writing (cough React cough) files containing a bloaty, icky mixture of content, HTML (markup), CSS (style), and Javascript (behaviour)? Yes, I get that the idea is that individual components should be packaged together (if you’re thinking in a React-like worldview), but that alone doesn’t justify this kind of bullshit antipattern.

It seems like the Web used to have developers. Then it got complex so we started differentiating back-end from front-end developers and described those who, like me, spanned the divide, as full-stack developers We gradually became a minority as more and more new developers, deprived of the opportunity to learn each new facet organically in this newly-complicated landscape, but that’s fine. But then… we started treating the front-end as the only end, and introducing all kinds of problems as a result… and most people don’t seem to have noticed, yet, exactly how much damage we’re doing to Web applications’ security, maintainability, future-proofibility, archivability, addressibility…

Cache-Control for Civilians

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Cache-Control for Civilians – CSS Wizardry – CSS Architecture, Web Performance Optimisation, and more, by Harry Roberts

One of the most common and effective ways to manage the caching of your assets is via the Cache-Control HTTP header. This header applies to individual assets, meaning everything on our pages can have a very bespoke and granular cache policy. The amount of control we’re granted makes for very intricate and powerful caching strategies.

A Cache-Control header might look something like this:

Cache-Control: public, max-age=31536000

Cache-Control is the header, and each of public and max-age=31536000 are directives. The Cache-Control header can accept one or more directives, and it is these directives, what they really mean, and their optimum use-cases that I want to cover in this post.

A great reference for configuring your HTTP caching headers.

What Does AJAX Even Stand For?

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…Jesse James Garett of Adaptive Path finally gave this use of Javascript a name. He called it Asynchronous Javascript and XML (thankfully shortened to Ajax). Ajax wasn’t a single method or technology, but a group of principles based on the work being done at Google that described how to handle JavaScript in more demanding web applications. The short version is actually fairly simple. Use XMLHttpRequest to make request to the server, take the XML data returned, and lay it out on the page using JavaScript and semantic HTML.

Ajax took off after that. It underpins major parts of modern web development, and has spawned a number of frameworks and methodologies. The technology itself has been swapped out over time. XML was replaced by JSON, and XMLHttpRequest by fetch. That doesn’t matter though. Ajax showed a lot of developers that the web wasn’t just about documents. The web could be used to build applications. That might seem like a small notion, but trust me when I say, it was momentous.

The History of The Web is great, and you should read it, but this piece is particularly interesting. Ajax and its spiritual successors laid the groundwork for rich Internet applications, shell apps, and the real-time Web, but they also paved the way for a handful of the inevitable practices that went alongside: Javascript-required websites, API-driven web and mobile applications with virtually no HTML content whatsoever… and these things have begun to become problematic for the health of the Web as a whole.

I love Ajax, but it absolutely must be employed as progressive enhancement where possible.

Pac-Man: The Untold Story of How We Really Played The Game

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Unrestored Pac-Man machine with worn paint in a specific place on the left-hand side.

Human beings leave physical impressions upon the things they love and use just as much as their do upon the lives of people and the planet they live upon. For every action, there’s a reaction. For every pressure, there’s an affect on mass and volume. And in the impressions left by that combination, particularly if you’re lucky enough to see the sides of a rare, unrestored  vintage Pac-Man cabinet, lies the never before told story of how we really played the game.

Until now, I don’t believe anyone has ever written about it.

Interesting exploration of the history of the cabinets housing Pac-Man, observing the ergonomic impact of the controls on the way that people would hold the side of the machine and, in turn, how that would affect where and how the paint would wear off.

I love that folks care about this stuff.

The Ball and The Box

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Thread by @LaurenHerschel: "After what has been a surprisingly okayish Christmas, I had a moment today in SuperStore. Saw a lady who reminded me of my 92yo grandma, who […]" (threadreaderapp.com)
Thread by @LaurenHerschel: "After what has been a surprisingly okayish Christmas, I had a moment today in SuperStore. Saw a lady who remindedndma, who even in the early stages of dementia, completely understood that my mom died. I thought I’d share t […]"
After what has been a surprisingly okayish Christmas, I had a moment today in SuperStore. Saw a lady who reminded me of my 92yo grandma, who even in the early stages of dementia, completely understood that my mom died.
I thought I’d share the Ball in the Box analogy my Dr told me
So grief is like this:
There’s a box with a ball in it. And a pain button.
And no, I am not known for my art skills.
In the beginning, the ball is huge. You can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over. You can’t control it – it just keeps hurting. Sometimes it seems unrelenting.
Over time, the ball gets smaller. It hits the button less and less but when it does, it hurts just as much. It’s better because you can function day to day more easily. But the downside is that the ball randomly hits that button when you least expect it.
For most people, the ball never really goes away. It might hit less and less and you have more time to recover between hits, unlike when the ball was still giant.
I thought this was the best description of grief I’ve heard in a long time.
I told my step dad about the ball in the box (with even worse pictures). He now uses it to talk about how he’s feeling.
“The Ball was really big today. It wouldn’t lay off the button. I hope it gets smaller soon.”
Slowly it is.

Minimal Google Analytics Snippet

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<script>
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n=function(r,s,t,u,v,w,x){var z="https://www.google-analytics.com/collect",
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This is cute: a Google Analytics code snippet that results in a payload about a fiftieth of the size of the one provided by Google but still provides most of the important features.

You probably don’t need a single-page application

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The meteoric rise of front-end frameworks like React, Angular, Vue.js, Elm, etc. has made single-page applications ubiquitous on the web. For many developers, these have become part of their ‘default’ toolset. When they start a new project, they grab the tools they know already: a REST API on the backend, and a React/Angular/Vue/Elm frontend.

Is there something wrong with these tools? Absolutely not. In fact, I love working with them. However, I would only choose this architecture when an actual requirement is pushing me in that direction. If there are no specific reasons to build a single-page application, I will go with a traditional server-rendered architecture every day of the week. It is simpler and allows you to move faster.

There’s been an increasing trend towards delivering web applications as SPAs backed by an API. I can see the attraction: disposing of the browser’s navigation cycle lets you develop that coveted “app-like” interaction experience, pushing only data around lets you implement multiple clients backed by the same single middleware, and it results in a development workflow that fits tightly with many of the hippest frameworks (go jamstack, backendless, Node-backed, or whatever). I love REST and all, but I feel that it works best when it’s used to deliver multiformat results (whether by content negotiation or whatever): web pages for the humans, JSON or whatever for the computers.

For an increasing number of developers, SPAs are a golden hammer. Let’s fix that.

Post-it Note Affirmations and the Amazon Dash

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The amazon dash is a pinnacle of modern web design. It’s one of the most intrusive, complex, and resource-dependent devices we’ve introduced into our homes, yet it appears as a simple oval with a single button for a single use. The use is absurdly narrow: the button will have a picture of Tide detergent, and when you press the button, Tide detergent is sent to your door.

Barely a week goes by between the times that I discover some horrifically over-engineered “solution” on the Internet. Amazon’s Dash buttons are terrible: disposable (plastic) single-purpose computers that could so easily have been made into something “more” – more-versatile, more-open, more-configurable, more-flexible. Indeed: people have been doing exactly that kind of thing! But the vanilla Dash button remains little more than selling you convenience (and not much convenience, if we’re honest) in exchange for more and more of your feeling of digital freedom. Yet another example of what replaced the Web we lost…

By hiding the technical processes, and simplifying the onboarding and engagement of their services, Amazon can continually reinforce your depression for a profit— and you can get name-brand laundry detergent faster.

Also, can I just take a moment to point out how awesome Zach’s website is. Not only is it the perfect example of how fun and weird the Internet can be and having a mixture of fascinating and curious content, it’s also available via dat:// for those of you who’ve got some love for the datbaseiverse.