I recently repurposed an old Raspberry Pi 3 (model B+) I had laying around the house into a retro gaming machine, using RetroPie. I’m not into gaming — I haven’t owned a console since the Game Boy Advance — but I enjoy the music and visuals of old games, I find them relaxing. More specifically, I’ve been having much fun playing EarthBound.

(I have another Raspberry Pi in the house set up with Pi-hole, blocking any incoming ad at source. I rarely have issues with it except when I bought a Samsung TV: the T&Cs weren’t even loading. Serves me well for buying from a company which delivers ads in their user’s home screen).

Stuart Frisby:

Both Sketch & Figma have support for using component libraries, but the experience of using them feels far less central to the design process than they need to be. Finding and using a component in a library is how I think 90% of design work should begin. Right now, the discoverability of components, and the lack of support for including rich documentation which explains how and when to use a component place a barrier between a designer, and the systems created to make them efficient.

Knowing from CSS how easy it can be to inherit a property and reuse classes, I find the management of symbols (with all of that nesting) to be cumbersome. The design tools we have maximise for flexibility and freedom of the designer. I would gladly sacrifice some of that in favour of a better awareness of the conventions of the medium I’m designing for (breakpoints, flex, grid behaviour, box model, etc.).

In most cases, what makes the most sense is to move as quickly as possible to the browser: pixel perfect designs are never going to be of much value, as they’re always just a stepping stone to get elsewhere. Treat them as you treat documentation and other assets.

Big Medium:

A Sketch library—or any collected drawings of software—can be a canonical UI reference only when the design is first conceived. Once the design gets into code, the product itself should be the reference, and fresh design should work on top of that foundation. It’s more important that our design libraries reflect what’s in the code than the reverse. Production code—and the UI it generates—has to be the single source of truth, or madness ensues.

Robin Rendle:

It bothers me that writers can’t create audiences on their own websites, with their own archives, and their own formats. And they certainly can’t get paid in the process. (Although yes, there are exceptions).

This. I love the newsletters I’ve subscribed to — but I love them because of their content, not their format. There is not a single one of them that I wouldn’t prefer as a blog. Blogs are better under every aspect — it just makes so much more sense to publish content in a way that’s reusable, searchable, linkable, and so on.

And I’ve come to the same conclusion as Robin, newsletters exist because they’re easy to subscribe to. It’s one click, two if they’re asking you to verify your email. How do you subscribe to a blog? RSS, right. I’m a big fan of RSS, but first you need to explain what it is, then how it works, then pick a reader — it’s just not as simple.

To me, newsletters look like an accident of the monopoly of a few platforms, in the sense that they provide a channel devoid of algorithmic sorting or filtering. But they aren’t better than the web. Were we to have built a subscription functionality in the browser (RSS but for everyone), they’d occupy a less central space.

But — here we are, in a world where to subscribe to content it either needs to belong to a network or else it will be delivered to me via email. Again, quoting Robin:

[W]riters choose a newsletter service like Substack because the business model is straightforward. I just sort of wish this infrastructure was built into websites themselves. […]

The web today is built for apps — and I think we need to take it back.

It’s gotten harder, rather than easier, to put something online without going through a platform.

These are not freedom of speech issues

We frequently bring up the right of free speech where issues of amplification are concerned.

All media is an exercise in prioritisation. We’ve seen again and again during these years that it’s possible for Facebook to tweak its algorithm to modify what bubbles through the newsfeed of its users:

Typically, N.E.Q. (a ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism) scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds. But several days after the election, Mr. Zuckerberg agreed to increase the weight that Facebook’s algorithm gave to N.E.Q. scores to make sure authoritative news appeared more prominently. […]

It resulted in a spike in visibility for big, mainstream publishers like CNN, The New York Times and NPR, while posts from highly engaged hyperpartisan pages, such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, became less visible, the employees said.

They simply choose not to: viral content pays the bills. More so than speech, it’s attention that we’re fighting over.

It should also be noted that censorship alone doesn’t work in an information-dense society. As Zeynep Tufekci wrote a couple of years ago:

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.

Until value will be assigned by counting likes, and recency will triumph over accuracy, there’s little hope that the quality of the information surfaced by social media will improve. However, it wasn’t just the algorithm here that abdicated to its responsibility to keep the public informed. Newspapers, radio and television spent the last four years constructing their narration of the events from something someone has said on Twitter.

Blocking only tackles the tip of the iceberg, the obvious abuse. The solution will eventually have to include rethinking how content is prioritised and how importance is distributed. The noise we experience on these platforms is a direct consequence of the logic of said platforms. Speed and ease of replication — the ability to take an utterance from an account with 10 followers and re-cast it to millions of strangers by clicking a retweet button — aren’t just features but an objective. Viral content pays the bills.

I made a new tiny website to keep track of what I’m reading and to annotate what I found to be interesting in those books. The domain is inherited from a tumblr I no longer update (because I do not enjoy tumblr the platform anymore).

I built it with 11ty, currently my favourite static site generator. It feels really lightweight, and vanilla; it’s refreshing to find a lightweight way to build simple sites in a land crowded with frameworks. I tried Gatsby.js a while ago and — just my personal opinion here — it really felt like I was fighting against the web when all I needed was putting together a few html documents.

There’s a simple way to generate pages from external data in 11ty, so initially I had it set up to retrieve the books from Goodreads. Given where Goodreads seems to be going, though, I switched to just using markdown files.

(Aside: I’m trying Netlify for hosting and Fathom for analytics — so far they’re great.)

No. Paul Ford, talking with his 2000-self:

’00: You keep saying that. How does HTML work now?

’20: It’s pretty simple, you define app logic as unidirectional dataflow, then fake up pseudo-HTML components that mirror state, and a controller mounts fake-page deltas onto the browser surface.

’00: How do you change the title tag?

’20: You can’t.

As Tom MacWright suggests, there are two web: a document web (the original vision of the web), and the web of apps. Front-end developers complain about CSS’ logic, and people like me twitch when they see CSS-in-JS.

I posit that this dual-nature is part of what gives the web its magic. But it’s also a destructive force.

The magic is that a simple blog can be creative expression, can be beautifully interactive. This one isn’t, but I’m just saying – it’s possible.

The problem is that the “document web” is often plagued by application characteristics – it’s the JavaScript and animations and complexity that makes your average newspaper website an unmitigated disaster. Where document websites adopt application patterns they often accidentally sacrifice accessibility, performance, and machine readability.

From a profile on the New Yorker that I only just now had the ill-fated idea of reading:

Andreessen is tomorrow’s advance man, routinely laying out “what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years,” as if he were glancing at his Google calendar. He views his acuity as a matter of careful observation and extrapolation, and often invokes William Gibson’s observation “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Jet packs have been around for half a century, but you still can’t buy them at Target. To smooth out such lumps in distribution, Andreessen disseminates his views via every available podcast and panel discussion and CNN interview slot: he’s a media soothsayer, Andreessen the Magnificent. He also tweets a hundred and ten times a day, inundating his three hundred and ten thousand followers with aphorisms and statistics and tweetstorm jeremiads. Andreessen says that he loves Twitter because “reporters are obsessed with it. It’s like a tube and I have loudspeakers installed in every reporting cubicle around the world.”

That is exactly why I do not enjoy social media at all anymore. Turn the amplification off. Enough with the loudspeakers. Enough with the Marc Andreessen kind of takes.

It’s fascinating how a single guy can embody everything that is wrong with startups and their funding system:

Such tests help a16z determine whether the founder is a mercenary who wants to sell the company within four years, which will cap a16z’s return at 5x, or a missionary, determined to change the world. “At the same time,” Andreessen said, “we’re not funding Mother Teresa. We’re funding imperial, will-to-power people who want to crush their competition. Companies can only have a big impact on the world if they get big.”

What an adorable human. Thanks for making the world a better place, Marc.

Advices from the Wikipedia community on how to handle having made a mistake with public consequences.

Brought to you by cameronsworld.net, a website with as many colours as you can get from your monitor. I look forward to the AR version.

A markup language that makes the authoring of interactive articles more accessible. You can see it in use on the Parametric Press, a new magazine experimenting with the dynamic capabilities of digital texts:

The current generation of publishing technology mimics tools that were designed during the era of the printing press. Past aspirations for the future of computing centered around empowering individuals and enhancing cognition, but many of these ideas fell to the wayside during the wildfire spread of internet connectivity and the commodification of publishing through platforms like WordPress and Facebook.

Alan Kay imagined the Dynabook in the hands of children across the world, while Neal Stephenson wrote of interactive paper that could display videos and interfaces, and books that could teach their readers. The web offers rich dynamic capabilities, but to most authors these are off limits, residing outside the confines of restrictive content management systems. We are a group of designers, programmers, and researchers who want to change that. Together, we are building interactive publishing tools, supporting digital journalism, and pushing the boundaries of web design.

(On the same topic: why books don’t work)

An overview of what goes into the computer processing of text:

I don’t believe there is a single place where it’s all properly written down. I have some explanation for that: while basic text layout is very important for UI, games, and other contexts, a lot of the “professional” needs around text layout are embedded in much more complicated systems such as Microsoft Word or a modern Web browser. […]

The hierarchy is: paragraph segmentation as the coarsest granularity, followed by rich text style and BiDi analysis, then itemization (coverage by font), then Unicode script, and shaping clusters as the finest.

Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel on the New York Times:

While innovation — the social process of introducing new things — is important, most technologies around us are old, and for the smooth functioning of daily life, maintenance is more important. […] It’s not just maintenance that our society fails to appreciate; it’s also the maintainers themselves. We do not grant them high social status or high salaries. Typically, maintenance is a blue-collar occupation: mechanic, plumber, janitor, electrician. There are white-collar maintainers (like the I.T. crowd) and white-jacket maintainers (like dentists). But they, too, are not celebrated like the inventor.

Once you notice this problem — innovation is exalted, maintenance devalued — you begin to see it everywhere.

Same authors (they organised a conference around this topic), on Aeon Magazine:

First, it is crucial to understand that technology is not innovation. Innovation is only a small piece of what happens with technology. This preoccupation with novelty is unfortunate because it fails to account for technologies in widespread use, and it obscures how many of the things around us are quite old. […]

Second, by dropping innovation, we can recognise the essential role of basic infrastructures. […]

Third, focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going.

To truly appreciate the mundane labour that keeps everything running pay attention to the details, to how stuff works. It’s anything but mundane. Maintaining stuff should be cool.

Un-doing is oftentimes easier — the number of times I heard someone suggesting starting from scratch to take the complexity away. The problem with this line of thought is that things only stay simple in the beginning. Any mature system is complex.

Audio editing using text. You can remove filler words (uhm, ehm) automatically but, most impressive, you can change what you said by editing the transcription: the app will update the recording by generating a digital voice that sounds like you.

Interesting take from Palladium Mag:

Considered frankly, this trend reveals the internet to be a technology of centralization. One of the core functions of the internet is to record material of human interest in digital format. These records span everything from our trivial preferences and financial habits to the most intimate messages we send each other. With adequate analysis, this data can be used to predict user behavior. This information is not made available to us as individuals. Even if it were, it would not be the kind of information we could use. It’s only useful en masse—in other words, only insofar as it makes us legible and visible to centralized institutions. The rise of Amazon, Tencent, Facebook, or Twitter aren’t bugs in the system, but the natural result of its real logic.

But maybe we shouldn’t always look at centralisation as necessarily bad?

In trying to understand and chart a course for the future, we might take inspiration from the centralizing effects of past technology. The printing press reduced the Catholic Church’s control over intellectual institutions. But it also paved the way for the standardization of language and for more direct control by state bureaucracies. Society was vastly more centralized in 1750 than it was in 1400. Through the modern lens, the benefits of the printing press vastly outweigh its costs, suggesting that we may be wrong to fear centralizing technologies in our own time.