Capital Numbers

A List Apart has long been a fantastic source of knowledge and inspiration in terms of both website design and writing, but on top of these accolades every now an then it manage to completely floor me. Sometimes it’s because an explanation finally hits home after years of misunderstanding, but other times it’s simply by providing a piece of information which is simultaneously brand new and yet perfectly obvious. The type of fact which leaves you a little wide-eyed, questioning your very purpose of existence. A mind-blower, if you will.

That’s what happened today whilst reading the (brilliant) article/excerpt on Web Typography: Numerals. The article is well worth a read just for the thoughts on how the web finally makes footnotes genuinely useful (and, in doing so, guilt trips me about how these same ideas have been sat unacted upon in my head for years). However, it was a simple comment near the start that struck me like lightning:

We have at our disposal ‘uppercase’ numbers 0123456789 called lining or titling numerals, and ‘lowercase’ numerals 0123456789 called old-style or text numerals.

Wait… what?! Numbers can have cases? I read the sentence once, thought “that’s strange”, then read it again and noticed the different cases. These different glyphs are subtle but still instantly recognisable, yet I have never realised they existed before. Such a simple little thing which makes complete sense. Much like the recent viral expose of Papyrus or the infamous Fight Club burn marks, I get the feeling that text numerals are now going to be one of those things I just can’t not notice. Which is equal parts infuriating and awesome.

Mister Vimes’d Go Spare & Assorted Odds ‘n’ Ends [#22]

Well, back from trip number two, which was a little more relaxing (though a lot more tiring… I do not understand how bodies work). As a result, I’ve actually been reading a bunch of stuff, including some fascinating finds in my Pocket archive, which I just want to get off my chest.

First up is a pretty recent post from Brynn Metheney, a fantastic artist whose work I’ve followed for years. The post details a recent contribution to an interesting project, the Endangered Species Book. That’s an impressive list of artists to be working on a single project and it seems like a very worthy cause. Definitely one I’ll be keeping my eye on.

Next, are a combination of quite old posts that have taken me far too long to catch up on. Both are written by Richard Thornton, a friend of mine who is currently living/working out in Japan (I say currently, but he’s been out there for years now). The first is a brilliant look at sake culture, which was utterly alien to me but now has leap-frogged up my bucket list for the land of the rising sun. The second is a rather more personal account of shaving-procrastination (I can seriously relate) and snowboarding (I have zero life experience to understand this utter madness). Like everything Richard writes, they are funny, inciteful and make me equal parts jealous of his life and incredibly grateful for my own. Perhaps Japan should be the aim for 2018…

Finally, the oldest of the lot, is a short story I saved to my Pocket account so long ago I have zero recollection where it is from or how I found it. Mister Vimes’d Go Spare is an utterly fantastic piece of Discworld fan fiction; in fact, it’s so good that I was almost convinced it had been written by Pratchett himself. The script, phrasing and language is very witty and the overarching concept is so incredibly correct to the voice of the series that it is definitely part of my head-canon now. I almost added it to this month’s MiM, but I don’t feel fan-fic is something I need to keep track of in that way. If you’re a fan of the main series, you should definitely read this – it provides some clever closure on several key themes and characters.

That suggestion does come with a slight word of warning, however: it may get to you a little bit. Personally, reading Mister Vimes’d Go Spare made me realise I have been avoiding reading Pratchett since he passed away. It hasn’t been an intentional, conscious choice but it is clearly one I’ve stuck to. Reading a story that even mentions, and briefly touches on, several of these characters I love and hold so dearly was, at times, surprisingly hard. Not only that, but the core idea at work was, and remains, incredibly powerful. Vimes has always been one of my favourite characters and, I think, the one that has been most influential on my own personality and life. Part of that reason is the character’s understanding of and relationship with the concept of justice. It’s a very nuanced one, yet contains absolutes which have always appealed to me. Vimes and the Watch storylines shaped my own concepts of morality a great deal.

As a result, Mister Vimes’d Go Spare cut close to the bone. The central concept is that, in the wake of Vimes’ death, his ideals and belief in justice take on a life of their own. That shouldn’t be confused with ‘good’ or ‘right’; Vimes never lived in a ‘good’ world, never had much time for something just because it was ‘right’. But there are standards. Some things have to be done, and they have to be done in a certain way. That’s justice. Not making sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose, but making sure that the result is fair and that everything is equal. It’s a very powerful idea. Talking about why I enjoyed the short so much to my partner, even writing this now, and truly contemplating that idea gets to me. It gets to me because I believe it; because, to me at least, it is true. It also gets to me because it is one of those wonderful Pratchett ideologies that feels important and correct; something that is both worth remembering and striving to obtain in our world. And that gets to me because we won’t be getting any more of those. So be warned: it might get to you, too.

April Foolery 2017 [#14]

 

So another year, another April 1st. As is usually the case, the internet was awash with odd concepts, fake news and terrible puns. On top of which, we also had the annual Aprils Fools “pranks” (badum-dish).

Honestly, there weren’t many good jokes this year. The National Trust and Google Home Gnome teams put out some clever and well made efforts (I’m definitely a Duck man, too), but otherwise little even made me chuckle.

On the other hand, two April Fools events had me completely enthralled, not just throughout the 1st, but for several days afterwards. Reddit’s /r/place was incredibly fun to be a part of, regardless of your personal “style”. At first it just seemed a little gimmicky and, I won’t lie, I lost interest as the Colour Wars broke out, figuring that the internet hive mind had gone full blown /b/tard and wouldn’t be coming back. But then He-Man and /r/ainbowroad happened, ushering in a new era of creativity and collaboration on the Place which turned it into something both incredibly addictive and fascinating. The initial break out of the Void made me chuckle, and I must admit to even helping out initially (though it should be noted that I mistook their efforts for a Doctor Who homage). As their true nature became known, however, I forsake the black tiles and took up a roll as a caretaker for the next 48 hours. I was hooked, checking back in whenever I had a chance and found the ever-morphing canvas utterly enthralling. The final product is brilliant, a little slice of internet history that I genuinely feel somehow honoured to have been a part of. Even more interesting though are the various GIFs floating around in the days since, showing the more ridiculous sequences of time on the Place. Everything from Skeletor’s swift joint to the attempted overthrow of the US are just fantastic to watch, especially when sped up.

But the Place wasn’t all Reddit had to offer. As I watched (and helped) the logo for one of my favourite subreddits appear on the canvas, I realised I hadn’t checked out what they were doing. Despite ostensibly being a community for discussing Pokémon Go, /r/theSilphRoad has become a fantastic source of ideas. For past cultural events they’ve hosted Pokémon hunts (hidden within Reddit’s voting system, of all places), riddles and other fun surprises so I wasn’t too shocked when I saw that they had their own April Fools in full swing: Team Rocket had taken over the Silph Road! Obviously, the website had been reskinned with Rocket colours, logos etc., along with all the community moderators having their privileges receded and replaced with Rocket Grunts, but the ‘joke’ ran much, much deeper.

A post appeared early in the day saying that the Nest Atlas (a web tool the Silph team has built over the last few months for PoGo players) was the reason for Team Rocket’s intrusion and, sure enough, once people knew where to look they began to find clues. It turned out that the team behind the Road had been kidnapped and were being held hostage; better yet, one of the largest PoGo Youtuber’s (and a personal subscription), Nick from TrainerTips, had also been captured. The crossover of communities helped make the event extremely successful, as thousands of people around the world starting prising apart various websites, map elements and other clues in a fantastically well put-together hunt to track down the Silph team. Special locations and interactions had been built into the Nest Atlas, certain web files had been added to the stack with clues and there was even a Team Rocket ‘intranet’ that became accessible for a few hours.

On top of all that, the entire event (for calling it anything less would be insulting, frankly) led to a fully functional* mini-game hosted by theSilphRoad. Paying homage to the original Pokémon Go teaser trailer, the hunt eventually led to down-town Manhattan, where Team Rocket had captured “Silph HQ”. Entering the location on the Nest Atlas led to a selection screen to pick your squad and then an interactive battle with non-other than Mewtwo itself. The execution was lightweight (understandable, given the circumstances) but really fun and gave the community a single goal to work towards. Overall, an amazing experience that deserves serious applause.

*Until the TrainerTips’ fans descended and overwhelmed the servers; #BlameNick!

Writing with Pollution

Poster on a run down wall with a black circle approximately the size of a tennis ball and the text

The idea of Air-Ink is a very clever one, taking an approach to reducing pollution that I really like. Rather than using guilt trips or absolution, instead the team at Graviky Inc. have devised a way to make the carbon in car exhausts have a value. It may not be as ideal as simply removing car exhaust pollution, but I think this type of “green” thinking has a much higher change of succeeding. Give a waste product a value and you’ll find that scarcity will naturally increase. Definitely a project I’m glad to have discovered.

I am a little disappointed though with the execution. When I first saw the Kickstarter I misunderstood and thought they’d come up with a device you could attach to your car and use the output to syphon off ink. In reality they’re just selling the ink, having gathered it themselves and refined it at industrial scale. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a great idea, but if they could somehow make the refining process integrated to the capture it would become an amazing idea. Can you imagine driving to work each day and refilling your ink well in the process? Perhaps some people would end up with excess ink, so the next step would be to make printers that could utilise it. Now that’s a truly win-win scenario that I would fund in an instant!

Martian Mirrors [#5]

Photograph of a wooden framed mirror with weather and calendar events projected onto the glass
Do I look Smart in this?

I absolutely love the execution and concept behind this “smart” mirror by Alex Repty (from MartianCraft). Sure, it’s clearly a labour of love rather than a commercial concept, but it’s also the kind of DIY tech project I aspire towards. Everything within the execution is custom made (even if the occasional part, such as the mirror, were purchased) so the end result can truly be called one-of-a-kind. Most impressive of all, to me at least, is that the software is also custom code whipped up to suit Alex’s particular needs. Whilst a “smart” mirror isn’t exactly top of my list of IoT devices, and the cost of the two-way mirror itself is a little off putting, I’d definitely like to try my hand at something similar in the future. Plus, with the whole process neatly written up for everyone to follow, it shouldn’t be too hard to reassemble the concept for my own needs. Top marks all round!

CMYK and the Magical Illusion of Colour

View post on imgur.com

There’s isn’t much to add to the above GIF, other than that I think it’s a really cleverly designed and demonstrated concept. The idea of CMYK printing is nothing new to me; I’ve been interested in the physics used in forming imagery since I first noticed the tiny circles of colour (read: pixels) on a Coca-Cola vending machine image at school. Heck, I’ve worked for a newspaper company right next to the printing warehouse and currently program for a company that specialises in bulk printing!

That said, I still find the concept of combining varying levels of cyan, magenta, yellow and black to form a seemingly full-colour image a little magical. I’m clearly not the only one, too, and this was a little too well executed not to share.

PS: This is also the first time I’ve ever posted using a card. Having finally seen the process in the wild, this is also a little bit magical. I’m just a little concerned its magical towards the Dark Arts end of the spectrum.

It’s Been A While; Plus Thoughts on Pluses

So… it’s been a while.

It’s been a while since I last posted an article. Part of that has been due to a month of incredible busyness where even the planned “down time” became frantic research time for car insurance, holiday planning, present purchasing etc. The rest has been Pokémon Go!, which has eaten free time like nothing else in recent history.

It’s been a while since I reviewed a movie. Sort of. The reality is, I’ve actually managed to keep on top of those over the last week or so, but I have a couple annoyingly outstanding from a time BPg (Before Pokémon Go!) and I’m not 100% happy with the current state of some of the others. July’s MiM is coming, with some interesting new ‘features’, but it may be a week or so late.

It’s been a while since I spent any time working on this website. Again, in a time BPg (historians will catch on, I’m sure of it) I was getting close to making some pretty big, radical changes to the backend here. They hit a slight snag which morphed into a major roadblock simply because I still haven’t really sat down to mull it over. Still, plans are slowly creeping forward!

It’s been a while since I did any photo editing. Despite weekend after weekend of major events in the past month, which have produced hundreds of photos I’m genuinely proud of, I haven’t posted to Flickr in coughmumblemumble… I’m not proud of that, but again, plans may finally be moving forward.

It’s been a while since I saw something truly exemplary online. There have been some great videos and some new passions, but nothing that’s made me sit up and go: yes! I agree! Let’s think about/act on that right now! Luckily, this waiting period has actually ended thanks to the ever inspiring Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green. I don’t want to go too deep into my thoughts right now because, well, this post has ballooned into something else which I quite like, but lets just say they’ve struck a nerve.

In a handful of recent Youtube videos, they both touched upon a worrying trend online, specifically that angry voices, ranting and outrage are becoming increasingly prevalent. In some ways, that’s totally okay, but the ubiquity and degree of rage is getting out of control. Between the two videos they discussed why anger leads to poor conversations, why it builds so much traction online, why that may provoke certain elements to create and foster this emotion above others and, most importantly, presented one method for potentially combating this trend. In terms of the “whys”, rather than regurgitate their words I’d urge you to just watch the videos. If the virality of anger is something that interests you, I’d also thoroughly recommend this analysis by CGPGrey.

What really made me sit up and take note, though, was their suggestion to combat saltiness and flame wars on Youtube: “+” comments. Because Youtube ranks comments based on the number of Likes and Comments they get, but comments are weighted higher than likes, angry/flamebait comments tend to rise to the top, causing a circle jerk of ever increasing rage. Hank Green, instead, suggested that people should leave a comment with a simple “+” symbol on any comments they felt worthy of praise, discussion or both. In doing so, they’ve hacked their own Youtube comments section into one where bile and trolling isn’t rewarded and genuine discussion/ideas are. It’s by no means perfect, but I thoroughly agree with both brothers when they say that it is as much the community’s job to police themselves and maintain order as it is the platform’s.

Personally, I’m a big fan of “+” comments. It may be that Youtube eventually begins to remove them or negate their importance, but in the meantime they seem to be a power for good. In particular, I feel they may be much more effective than reporting negative/trolling/abusive comments. I’m a firm believer that a carrot will be more likely to provoke change than a stick (plus, over reliance on the stick reduces it’s power/thorniness).

Drawing the UI for the IoT? There’s an App for that!

Forget UI design, let the user decide instead.

I absolutely love this concept from Marc Exposito which combines the best of IFTTT and augmented reality to allow you to quickly, simply and visually control Internet-of-Things enabled devices. I’ve yet to find any IoT gadgets that actually warrant a purchase (personally) but as the field expands and becomes more ubiquitous, apps such as Drawit will in turn become more and more powerful. These are the types of problems and subtle interactions that I can see the IoT, tablets, wearables etc. really embracing in the near future.

How Do I Join Hell’s Anthropologists?

Science Gang Tattoos by Tom Gauld, created for New Scientist.

A brilliant little illustration of possible science-based gang tattoos. The names aren’t the best (though Particle-Physics She-Devils has a special place in my soul) but the actual imagery is spot on. I’d love to revisit this idea at some point and come up with my own variation for us Evolutionary Biologists (or possibly Software Engineers, I can rep both crews)!

The Most Dangerous Way to Write

I have no idea how useful this little web-app may actually turn out to be, but it’s definitely a neat idea (and I wrote all of this in it too!). “The Most Dangerous Writing App” is certainly an odd one: keep writing in the completely streamlined text entry box for the allotted time limit (you set this yourself) or else “die”. Death, in this case, doesn’t refer to some chain-mail-esque curse, but the threat that if you stop writing for longer than ~5 seconds (total time unknown, I conducted a few simple tests but nothing too rigorous) the screen and box begin to fade, a red haze descends and then, ultimately, the “time’s up” message hits. At this point, it isn’t just game over… it’s message gone. Your entire piece of text (all of it) gets deleted, leaving you with a red screen, a red face and nothing to show for the effort.

As a result, I’m not convinced I’d ever want to try a time limit of longer than 5 minutes (which is what I’ve been experimenting with), just in case something went wrong. I’m also not sure what counts as “typing”; I went to correct typos and found it fading out whilst I was still hitting backspace, which was unnerving. Still, it definitely makes you stay focused, which is no bad thing. If that results in greater productivity then perfect, though I definitely felt the stress rising towards the end as the timer ticked down, my mind largely becoming clouded with thoughts of “this would be awful if it disappeared now”.

That said, once the timer has run down the option to Save or Restart becomes available and the risk of losing everything goes away, so I guess it’s probably a very good way of “getting in the zone”. At any rate, definitely worth a look, even if it’s just for some quick writing challenges or to get thoughts out without any formatting worries. Will likely try it out a few more times in the future!