Death of the Internet [#50]

December 14th 2017: The day the internet died.

It’s a weird thing to wake up to, the repeal of net neutrality in the US. There’s is absolutely nothing that I, as a British citizen, could do to prevent the FCC from taking this course of action. Which, to be fair, isn’t too far from the reality for American citizens either; the result is not particularly unexpected, despite widespread criticism.

There’s also no way of knowing the impact it will have. Worst case scenario, as a non-American, would be seeing other governments (particularly my own) mimicking the decision and formally handing the web over to corporations, rather than people. Except, outside of the US the ISP market isn’t dominated by monopolies, so the market would actually stand a chance at forcing effective neutrality. That means I’m fairly insulated from the most obvious repercussions. Harder to measure, but probably more likely, are the ripple effects. How many new services will simply never exist if US providers decide that road blocks are more profitable than open highways? How much innovation in Silicon Valley will be lost to firms spending less on R&D and more on bandwidth?

On the other hand, if ISP’s in the US do abuse their new powers it could lead to the slow (or relatively sudden, depending on perspective) eroding of the US as a global leader in technology and software. Whilst the UK is not exactly well placed to pick up that slack, countless other countries would likely benefit. Less of an American influence on the web could actually be widely beneficial (of course, not to Americans).

The result is that the loss of net neutrality, from a global perspective, is a bit of a grey area. We may benefit or we may lose, but ultimately we will be slightly more able to shape that destiny. The ridiculousness of the decision is that such luxury is not afforded to the US itself. They are the ones rolling the dice, but they’re also the ones with the highest stake, all balanced precariously on an unknown odd. No matter what happens next it’s pretty unlikely the US will benefit, but the rest of the world just might.

On that note, if you are in the US and are rightfully worried/angered by the decision that occurred yesterday, I’d point you towards Ethan Marcotte’s break down. It offers a slim silver lining which is plausible (unlike some of the others doing the rounds) as well as an even, yet irritated, overview of what it could actually mean. Well worth a read and well worth enacting.

Welcome to the Grid [#43]

There are a lot of new web technologies emerging at the moment which really feel like we’re entering a new era. Over the last decade, the likes of HTML5, ES6+, flex box etc. have brought the web, and the technologies on which it is built, very much into the modern day. Accessibility, responsiveness and flexibility have become standards, instead of the nice-to-have pipe dreams they were when I first built a website. Still, a lot of the new features and developments have been addressing limitations of what the web was back in the early noughties.

Right now, then, is a little different. There are still plenty of problems with how the web operates, limitations to its functionality and misuses of its resources, but with a little time and effort a website can become everything it was ever designed to be, and much more. The next round of technological implementation, then, is redesigning the way the web works. Do you need an active internet connection to be ‘online? Not any more. Want a website to do more than simply house and interlink static text? That’s getting pretty common.

Despite these huge leaps forward in terms of functionality, one element of those old, dark days has remained missing. Right when I started to learn HTML the standard approach was to mimic page setting from magazines by using <table> elements. That practice died a deserved death, but ever since the web has been slightly restricted in how it can display information in a dynamic, yet rigidly structured, manner. There have been improvements, such as display:table, flex box and semantically clearer HTML (section, article, aside etc.), but ultimately none have met the ease of application of a table layout.

Hopefully that’s about to change, thanks to CSS Grid. It’s a technology I’ve heard bits and bobs about for some time, but I’ll admit it hasn’t excited me like service workers or PWAs have. Thanks to (yet another) great article from A List Apart, I’m now firmly on board the Grid train and willing it to go faster, and faster, and faster. Honestly, I love the whole concept, but for me one of the most exciting aspects is the quick prototyping available through template-areas. For a full breakdown, read the article, but the “aha!” moment for me was seeing how this:

.cards {
        display: grid;
        grid-template-columns: 1fr 1fr 1fr;
        grid-gap: 20px;
               “a a b”
               “. d d”
               “c e e”;

Is automatically translated into this:

Layout of 5 grid blocks and 1 empty cell, showing how CSS Grid can span columns and rows, auto-fill containers and be easily spaced.
The beauty of CSS Grid.

That’s not just replicating all the functionality of the table-based layouts of yesteryear, it’s taking the best part of it, the flexible rigidity, and removing all the irritating parts, leaving just the essence. It’s wonderfully simple yet extremely powerful and has clearly been thought through to an obscene degree. The fact that even blank cells are inherently catered for, rather than having to just set a blank <div> or similar, is just fantastic. Vendor/browser support will be the next big hurdle, but by the sounds of things that’s coming along extremely well. Give it a year and CSS Grid looks like it could well be the new standard approach.

Stickers, Eclipses and Lighthouses [#36]

Today is a day for another round-up of interesting pieces from across the web. Nothing too special, but hopefully a little intriguing.

First up is Google Lighthouse, one of the many branches of the Alphabet behemoth and a pretty interesting little project. I haven’t actually managed to get it up and running, but I’ll definitely be trying it out on theAdhocracy some time soon (and probably weeping at the result). I don’t need to test it, though, to see it will be a very useful tool in battling the increasingly problematic issue of internet lag.

Second is the article which led me to Lighthouse in the first place: AMPersan, by Ethan Marcotte. Not much to add to this one, just another voice adding weight to my uneasiness with the idea of AMP and similar projects. Well worth a read if you’re interested in the open web.

In third place is a collection of ‘achievement’ stickers doing the rounds of the blogosphere right now. Originally designed by Jeremy Nguyen, published on The New Yorker and personally discovered via TheLogoSmith, the stickers are a humorous look at the pitfalls of being self employed. They’re specifically designed for freelance designers, but I feel a lot of them are applicable across disciplines. If you work from home, you’ll probably find yourself smiling and nodding.

Fourth on the list is a simple article from Martian Craft outlining “The Importance of Routine“. The post is aimed at remote works and is far from news to me, but it is a well written example of how to apply this kind of thinking. I’m saving it here more to try and force myself into setting something like this up for my own free time.

Finally, I was blown away by the “Lifetime Eclipse Predictor” visualisation created for The Washington Post (discovered via Source). In the wake of the recent total eclipse in the US, along with reading various posts on the rarity of such events, I’ve been left with a real urge to try and make sure at my path eventually coincides with a path of totality. It is a ridiculously awesome coincidence that our moon’s diameter and planet’s solar distance align so accurately. I mean, even if there are other life-hosting planets out there, we’re certainly one of an incredibly small number that can witness this phenomenon. That makes it practically a responsibility to see a total eclipse, at least once.

John Oliver’s Back in the UK, Free and Legal!

I am a huge fan of the ever insightful talk show Last Week Tonight, hosted by John Oliver. I love the directness of the opinion pieces, agree with many of the stances taken and largely find the script (and Oliver himself) extremely entertaining and hilarious. Most of all, though, I appreciated and was won over by their clever usage of social media.

During the show’s first season, which was seen as somewhat of a gamble for both HBO and John Oliver – who looked set to be the next Daily Show host with ease – I avidly awaited each weeks “tirade” on Youtube. At the time I was living in New Zealand, but even back in the UK watching the full show, legally, was impossible as no networks had picked it up for local release. Despite that, because the show’s team decided to embrace web culture and new media, pretty much all the heavily scripted pieces of the program were available on Youtube, Facebook and other popular social sites. As a result, when I started picking up on the buzz surrounding the show through favourite Youtubers and web journalists, I actually had a point of reference: I could log on and watch Oliver’s brilliant ripostes on all manner of subjects. They were fantastically well put together, he made me laugh and I became on instant fan.

So I was over the moon when BSkyB, the company behind the largest “cable” TV network in the UK (Sky, if you hadn’t worked that out) acquired the distribution rights for the second season. I don’t actually subscribe to Sky (or any other TV package, for that matter) but it was great news for the show and would hopefully mean many more seasons to come. Unfortunately, it had an unforeseen side effect which was completely gutting and has meant I’ve not seen anything more from the program since the conclusion of Season 1.

Apparently, Sky has a much stricter licensing contract than HBO (or, more likely, either don’t see the positives in creating their own equivalent Youtube outlet or HBO wouldn’t let them). The end result was that my weekly video drop from John Oliver became nothing more than a dark gray screen with the overlaid text “This video has not been made available in your region”. Yep, the dreaded region lock had now been applied to my favourite news segment. Now, if I wanted to catch up on John Oliver’s witty social commentary, I would have to turn to illegal methods, which I don’t like doing (and yes, I accept I could also spend the £40+ a month to subscribe to Sky, buy an actual TV and get a UK TV license, pay for and install a satellite cable etc. but that was blatantly not worth it). The result was that I stopped watching and have spent the last year with pangs of frustration every time an American friend or news outlet tells me that I “must watch the latest John Oliver video”. I want to, believe me, but unfortunately I can’t.

Or at least that’s what I had thought. It turns out, it’s not as simple as all that. I have no idea when this began but certainly, right now, The Late Show also has a Facebook page. On that Facebook page are a large chunk of their Youtube videos, not simply linked to from Youtube but actually re-uploaded to Facebook. And therein lies the rub, because Facebook currently doesn’t do region locking on video content, so all those videos are openly available in the UK. Joy of joys, John Oliver can once more be a part of my weekly life! It’s like he’s coming home all over again!

2 Kinds of People

Two seemingly identical available WI-FI networks menus but one shows default network names and the other has networks all named using Wi-Fi related popular culture puns
I know several people who have “Pretty Fly for a Wi-Fi” as their network names… not quite sure what that says…

Occasionally, StumbleUpon truly comes through for me, providing a tiny internet gem that I’m certain I’d have never found otherwise. Today, that accolade goes to 2 Kinds of People, the type of microsite that Tumblr was made for. Some of the posts are a little obvious, though the simplistic art style makes them look great anyway, but I found myself genuinely laughing more than once as I browsed through their content. Definitely recommend a look.