I hereby decree

by David LeMieux

 

There is a lot of new data generated every moment. Most of which isn't actually that interesting, at least not on its own. As the world, or at least parts of the world, continues to be more connected the constant flow of this new information drives innovation in terms of how to organize and consume or even ignore it. How we digest this content, create it, and the tools that help us do both are ever changing and there is a new pattern emerging that points to a different style of data management.


Consumption
Compartmentalization has benefits, but there aren't great jumping off points.

In college I had used bookmarks to keep track of all the different sites I wanted to check on a regular basis. I would open the pages one by one (and soon after, tab by tab) in a browser and read through the latest articles. Some friends had blogs, those were in the list. Each item was an individual link going to a new compartment of information.

At some point Firefox introduced Live Bookmarks - A bookmark folder that pointed at a RSS/Atom/XML feed and would just show the latest articles as though they were regular bookmarks. It was about this time that the flow changed. Instead of individual, unique jumping off points there was a place to go to see part of the stream and start from there. Then came Google Reader. Reader allowed users to follow any number of feeds and lists and served as a central jumping off point for discovering and following all sorts of data.

Unfortunately Google sunset Reader. There are other services that do nearly identically the same thing, but they aren't quite the same. Because of this (and, I must pause for a moment to mention that Facebook, Twitter, and other popular apps have changed the landscape of how and where people put new information) we have returned to what feels like the bookmarks of before. While there are aggregation services still around, most people turn on their phone then find the app they want to open and start there. The home screen in the new bookmarks bar.

Technology has a constant drumbeat that makes it march ever forward and now is no exception. There are already signs that things are changing. Flipboard, already several years old, is like a content aggregator but also creates a unique layout - making the new content even easier to digest. I am not sure, however, that this isn't just a stopgap. That maybe Flipboard is a bit too Reader-esque and not enough of the thing of the future. An interesting article titled The End of Apps As We Know Them points to that the way we use our apps is changing. We are moving away from the bookmark-style launch screens and more toward interactive notifications and in-the-moment, contextual information processing. Google Now is the current best example of this - showing you information at the time you need it. The newest part of that idea, though, is the shift away from content consumption ("Your flight has been delayed") to content creation and data entry.


Creation
Auto updating/formatting of content in the moment.

Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms allow for content creation and sharing in many diverse and easy to use ways and these services will continue to be a part of the new flow. Added to them (or, perhaps, as part of them) will be new kinds of content and data entry. Wearables will allow collection of personal activity data. Phones and beacon/checkpoint technology will give better locational awareness. These ideas certainly aren't new, but the emerging patterns of design and interaction seem to suggest they will become more prominent than they are now. With all this data, though, who will take the time to organize it and make it presentable? The answer is that the computers will do it for us. We can already see how some content streams, like Facebook's, auto filter and layout the things we post on our behalf. Newer technologies like The Grid even claim to be able to do it for freeform, personal content so that a user doesn't even have to think about how new content fits in to their website.

Instead of templates, The Grid talks about applying layout filters. This combination of content filters applied to a layout filter points to a world in which you could just go about your life, maybe take some pictures and then very easily manage who sees what and when and where but with none of the current friction in doing do. It also means that we may be able to move away from some of the walled gardens of the day, but it could also mean the opposite. This kind of easy flow sometimes only works when every part is from the same system.


Context
Handoff and Context switching

Another part of this will be removing the need to think about which device you are using. There is already evidence that this will be a solved problem soon. Apple's own continuity product is a step in this direction.


Development
Interesting future

For the first time in a long time I had the thought that what I currently do as a living, web software engineering, might be taken over by robots. Sure, someone has to tell the robots what to do, but for how long? How long until the steam of data, the flow of information, organizes itself? How many people have personal blog compared to how many users use Facebook? I'm sure some Facebook users would love to customize the look and feel of their feed, but mostly people are content that the feed exists at all. I also wouldn't want to even suggest that a machine could learn "what is design" or "what is art" but they are certainly going to try.


Monetization
Ads are probably over

In Peak Ads the data suggests that people care less and less about traditional advertising and that advertisers are going to need to find different ways of presenting their sales pitches. Things like native advertising figure in to this. I am not so sure that will last. The Internet is going to move to a non-ad-supported model and it is going to be interesting to watch. I have no idea how any of this new flow of data will be monetized, but I hope it is with people paying money or by the system becoming so cheap that it can run itself. Or become a utility. Who knows. I don't think Internet advertising will be around in a recognizable form, though. That could just be wishful thinking.

I am not an expert in any of this. In fact, a real expert may be reading this and thinking "What a naive, uninformed bunch of grammatically incorrect nonsense." I still think something similar is on the horizon and I am eager to see what happens.

 

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I've been using Yosemite at home and at work for the last bit and have to say I love it more than I probably ought to do. Something about it is in tune with how I think I feel things are supposed to work. Not much has changed, but it just feels more "right." From the design to the small functional differences it is better is almost every way.

The only thing that is a bother for the moment is the new fullscreen button that replaced the old (+) button. Now you know to know to hit "Option+" for it to act like it did before and I use that all the time.

Yosemite Window Buttons
The green one now defaults "Full Screen"

That's all.

 

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I am a fan of art generated by code. I even gave it a try a little bit. There is a lot that can be discussed about the topic as a whole, but I want to only take a moment and spotlight a project that I found recently through browsing my Github feed.

var t;

Jenn Schiffer (who's posts on Medium, by the way, have caused a sufficient amount of confusion at work to make me an instant fan) is dissecting different artists and art styles and how one might replicate them using code.

Example step in the process
Example step in the process

This includes first figuring out the patterns and replicable parts of art and then trying to reproduce them procedurally with code. What is interesting to me about the process is that this method almost completely ignores the question "What is art?" and instead says "Here is some art, lets break down the parts. How can I make a similar art with similar parts?" Which itself is an indirect answer to the first question, if even unintentionally.

It sort of reminds me of The Artist is Present Game where you relive the experience of the performance of the same name, only digitally. It isn't the same as the original, but it becomes its own thing by being an approximate replica in a different medium.

I don't mean to draw conclusions from things that don't need them. I enjoy art and code and art made from code. Maybe someday someone will create an interpreter that runs code based on art.

 

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I am a fan of Coins but only recently did I discover this album of Beastie Boys/Daft Punk mashup tracks. I have listened to it a lot over the last few weeks and I have to say that each track is better than the last. The only exception, for me, is the _Disco Breakin track which, while still a fun listen, doesn't follow the crescendo of increasing quality and instead takes us back to around _Pass the Mic. That could just be me, though.




Bonus: There is also a new CVS Bangers

 

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I went to Eastern Washington University for a year between 2000 and 2001. While there I had the opportunity to be in the Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Pep Band as third trombone. We would be required (and also paid) to play at sporting events. Because of this we would often have need to coordinate with the cheer team because they wanted to be sure to have time to do their cheers and they also wanted to know when we would play different songs because they had worked out little dance routines that accompanied them.

The thing is, though, we didn't really get along with the cheer squad. I am not exactly sure why, but there was some enmity there that perhaps had persisted through time. I was a freshman and so I bought in to the culture of animosity, and that is a topic for another day. It is enough to say that we felt occasionally inspired to upset the cheer team.

We would play this song at the request of the cheer team:



Normally when a band from an opposing school would play this song we would shout over the top of the "Go Team Go" part and instead shout "High School Band" in a mocking tone. We felt we were above this simple melodic rally cry. When the cheer team would insist we perform the tune we were always reluctant to comply. We would use this an opportunity to upset the cheer team.

Since the cheer team had created a little routine to go with the song, and since it was loop-able (as is the song) we would purposefully put extra measures at different parts of the song, adding extra beats here and there, throwing off the rhythm of their dance. They would never quite figure out what had gone wrong and we wouldn't do it frequently enough to have it be common.

 

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A Dead Colors fan emailed me a request:

 Could you, by any chance, make a color palette containing all of the dead colors for PhotoShop? 


When I finally found the email I was sitting at the @Scale Conference and decided I'd give it a try. I could have, of course, gone in to photoshop and created a new palette manually and then exported it (which, due to my finding the email late, was what the fan ended up doing before I could respond) but I didn't want to take the time.

I did a quick search for the Adobe file specification for .aco files and found this information by Larry Tesler. The code that generates the dead colors list was originally written in PHP, but I decided that with the specification and a quick refactor I could generate the color file using Node.

I did find something perhaps noteworthy. The spec information says that the versions are 0 and 1 but I could never get the file to work until on a whim I tried using 2 - so either I am tapping some undocumented third version or the values are supposed to be 1 and 2. On top of that I ran in to some issues early due to my not using unsigned integers.

The resulting library is on Github. You give it a list of color information including the display name and hex color value and it will create a color palette that you can import in to at least the latest version of Photoshop. Next steps would include adding reading, but due to the many different color encoding types this will take some time and I really only needed the write capability to satisfy the original request.

The dead colors aco file is available on the Dead Colors page. I was able to send it to the fan but too late. He had already done it manually taking hours of his time.

I may have had to go through the hours of pain of making one myself before receiving this message, but it still makes me so happy that you responded.


It was a fun exercise and I was able to get most of it done while I also listened to talks at the conference.

node-aco on github

 

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There is a not-too-recent design trend that websites are designed to not scroll but instead animate or change the information on the screen as the user uses the scroll wheel on a mouse or the scroll bar. A limited example of this can been seen on Dropbox's Carousel site.



As you can see in the video, as the use scrolls downward some animations play and at a certain point the page stops scrolling entirely and only the animations continue, even though the page is still scrollable. There are other, more extreme examples of this as well. Some sites seem to handle this new take on information disclosure in a way that makes sense but many miss the mark and become confusing.

This breaks usability. The animations are visually interesting and the end result (displaying more content) is essentially the same, but there is no longer a 1:1 mapping of the actions a user takes through the interface or the input device to what is happening on the screen. The timeline, for lack of a better term, becomes arbitrary. The different portions of content are harder to track because they lose their sense of placement on the page. If a user is using touch device to scroll then that relationship can be further harmed. (Though in the case of carousel, the site removes this and scrolls as you'd expect).

Timeline may be the right term to use inasmuch as the design of the pages treats the scrollbar like a scrubber going through the time of some animation or even a video, even though the presentation is interactive. If the designer wanted to present the user with a timeline of information then she/he should stick to a more readily identifiable mechanism for the same.

It can also be tempting to misuse animation. Animation really isn't the issue, though. The issue is the disconnect between the scroll action and what you see visually on the page in terms of mapping movement. You wouldn't turn the page of a book and have it only change the picture on the page you are on. That is a bad comparison, but the idea is the same.

Let pages scroll, otherwise use a different navigation mechanism and make it obvious.

 

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Getting a random value in JavaScript is pretty boring;

 var random = Math.random(); 


This will give you a floating-point, psuedo-random number between zero and one. This is not very random. When I ask for something random I should be able to get back whatever. Spork. Waffles. Things that are totally random and cool.

That is why I've taken the first step toward making Math.random more random.



As you can see, this updates the regular Math.random to also sometimes return a totally random string (cheese). (This is another example of how random it should be.)

DOOM!

 

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I am at an interesting point of my career and the only name I seem to be able to give to it is indifference. In the last six years I have been at Flite the world of software development has changed and not even just once. I do not expect it will slow down either, but my willingness and interest in keeping up has certainly waned.

Recently I have been surveying the job landscape and technologies that didn't even exist (or were definitely not mainstream) three years ago are now listed on almost every job description. There isn't anything wrong with that necessarily but I haven't personally had the time nor inclination to try and do anything with those new technologies but if I wanted to go get a new job I am now expected to know about them.

What makes things seemingly worse is that, in my casual observance of the landscape, we seem to be loosing any subtlety and compromise and instead everything turns in to a Holy War. Everybody is looking for people who are on the same side. Which platform do you use? Which text editor? Which project management methodology? (Which phone platform? Which OS? and on and on) The big players like Google and Facebook and Twitter then throw their weight in the mix. Sometime I think it is because that, as large companies, they don't actually have enough work to do and so spend their time dreaming up their own ideal vision of how things should work. And why shouldn't they? I am still not convinced that their ways should be my ways but it looks like there is no avoiding making a choice.

Take bower for example. It is neat and works as it says on the tin, but I cannot figure out how or why I'd use it in a production environment. If I need to download dependencies I can do that and package them. I am not about to change my deployment infrastructure just because a new tool exists to replace something I maybe do one or twice a month, tops. That said, maybe I am missing the bigger picture. I guess the point is that right now I don't care.

I will own up to the fact that I am falling behind on my own school of thought that if you like something you will do it on your own and gain experience through trial and error. It isn't like I've been sitting at work doing nothing. We don't always have the opportunity to adopt new technologies at the drop of a hat and if we did we might not ever get anything done. I could try harder to stay current.

This complaint is not original nor unique. I feel a little bit like an inflexible curmudgeon by admitting these reservations, but what else can I do?

I am just getting tired of feeling like I need to have an opinion about everything. I am much more comfortable saying that I will use the best tool for the job as I find them, but if "the industry" is going one way I guess I also don't want to be on the side that gets left behind.


Update: This video is great.





 

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