Quantum Leap

Standard

Scott Bakula could have summed it up with, “Oh boy…”. Everyday an entire industry leaps from point to point, making great strides towards an uncertain future. We see glimpses of what is to come, but are unsure of what it will really be. Cloudiness marks the path of technology. When we get there, it seems so obvious, but for so long it all seems so terrifying and uncertain.

The familiarity of where we just were lingers as we are thrust into the next step in the evolution of technology. Very few foresee where we will go tomorrow. Those who do, as cliche as it sounds, use it for good or for evil.

And sometimes, we prepare as a community for what will happen. As information sharing and collaborative software development evolves, so does our awareness of technology’s own evoloution. Two — or thousands of — heads are better than one. As communities have been empowered by new tools, they have driven some exciting projects.

Apache, Mozilla, Debian, Gentoo — oh, and Linux itself — are all fine examples of how a collective effort has paved the way for technology before the way was really known. More than anything, they have provided the foundation for the next best thing.

Soon our software will be alive. It will evolve before our very eyes. It will learn how to cope with new viruses, spyware, spam or increasing demand for particular features. It will catalog your mistakes, helping you get what you need with greater speed, clarity and precision.

Gone are the days of the 8-floppy install suite. Welcome are the times of the 4 megabyte installer with one hand firmly grasping the internet. Welcome is the client-side checkbox named, Always know what the hell is going on and let me know.

Web-based application update services will have a growth spurt in the next two years. It started with net installs, Windows Update or Symantec virus definitions. It ends up with a community-based effort to combine a next-generation appplication toolkit, innovative and scalable web update services, and distributed mirror management.

With all the talk about where projects like Mozilla have been, we are once again looking backwards, with fear and uncertainty about where we are going. We generate this unrest because we don’t see instant gratification. We don’t get our king-sized serving of technological fries whenever we want it.

And yes, sometimes these things take a bit of time. It’ll take more than 5 minutes at the Burger King drive-thru to make this all work; much longer. In many cases it takes much longer than the private industry would find to be economically viable. But it will happen, and more importantly, it will happen the right way.

Because we’ve come too far to pack our shit up and go home in defeat. We’ve found ourselves on the brink of changing history. We have an opportunity at hand, as a community, to reclaim control of the presentation of information, and to safeguard it against all possible threats. Think about it.

Never before have we had the chance to make information truly free. Even then, freedom was a lost concept, a mere construct formed by those who were trying to market it. Now think of having complete control over all of your inputs. What a beautiful yet simple concept.

What we’ve failed to realize is that we control our own destiny. As a community we can reach our Atlantis, and we control where we leap to, just as Sam Beckett found out in his last adventure. And to blow up the metaphor, once we collectively figure this out — instead of stopping, we’ll continue to leap with a newfound awareness; uncertain of where we’ll end up, but definitely going there on purpose and with a clue.

What role will you play in the evolution of technology?

sIFR

Standard

I recently came across a technology people are using to embed vector-rendered fonts in web content. Please, just stop this nonsense. Tell your friends to cut this shit out. Seriously.

sIFR is yet another attempt by designers to become pleased by their own site. It serves no end, and it really is an extension of the vain nature of most designers. A simple and clean aesthetic is all you need. Most other things are overkill. This is a good example.

Even my own site has its own styles as a result of my own vanity. Sure it says something about me, but most of the time nobody really gives a shit. I know this, and that’s fine — that’s why my design is actually pretty damn simple.

As I said in my post about unnecessary flashiness in emails, information is ultimately ruled by content, not presentation. Look at Google or The Best Page in the Universe — even Slashdot.

The recurring theme is a focus on content, simplicity, and clarity. Without those three underlying factors, nothing matters. People will come, and they will go. They will never notice how their fonts were rendered. The keepers of sIFR so humbly see it as “The Healthy Alternative to Browser Text”. Please get over yourself, assholes.

Thanks for taking the time to make this particular method accessible. Accessible in italics because it’s technically accessible. Although, what really constitutes accessibility? Well, let’s see.

Accessibility is a mindset. It is a fundamental approach to designing sites to be universally accessible. It is a way of doing things to avoid ever excluding a subset of your entire possible audience.

A part of this approach is being cautious and always questioning the use of new technologies. In most cases the Why, How, Who, What, Where questions can be used as a simple way of gauging the advantages of new technologies:

  • Why should I use this technology?
  • How will it affect users?
  • Who benefits from this additional feature?
  • What are the possible drawbacks or dependencies?
  • Where will I use this in my site?

For sIFR, the justifications don’t just come to me. Going out of your way to render header fonts using a third-party plug-in — even if it has a fallback — is completely pointless:

  • There is no purpose other than appeasing a designer’s own thirst for attention.
  • It affects users because if they DO have flash and block it, they don’t see headers.
  • If they don’t have flash, that’s an extra step for their client when it renders markup.
  • Nobody benefits from this but the designers themselves.
  • Only people using Flash can benefit, if they block flash they miss content.
  • Nowhere, just don’t.

The designer, Mike Davidson talks about how clients have been slowly coming along in their methods for aliasing fonts. Well, that’s the idea, isn’t it? Let browsers show something standard and common and have the clients catch up as time moves on.

With so many options for desktop environments, people have the tools – Quartz, Cleartype, Xfonts, whatever. Eventually users will have complete control over how aliased their fonts are and they can all be very pleased with how neat their letters look on their own webpages. They may even be so pleased they’d call it “stunning”. That’s the kind of shit I’d expect to hear from someone who puts up thousands of golden curtains in Central Park. STUNNING! *gasp*

Overall, sIFR is just about the stupidest shit I’ve ever seen. The web is a universal tool meant to free information in an organized and simple manner. Presentation and design can play a role in improving usability and accessibility in many cases, but should never take precedence over (or serve as an obstacle to) the information itself. Content rules.

If you let design overshadow content, pack your computer back in its box set it on fire. Stunning!

Ode to My Landlord

Standard

Greg Heilman used to be my landlord a couple of years ago. He was an interesting guy, into ancient artifacts, sociology, alternative cultures, human psychology, botany and other things. Certainly up there on the list of intelligent people I’ve come across in my lifetime.

I didn’t find out until March that he had taken his own life. To me, it was rather shocking. To me he always seemed upbeat, always smiling. Often times I would see him sitting outside the beanery on Monroe handing out flowers to random women. It was that random kindness that led him to want to help students learn Psychology, or volunteer for the Red Cross.

Of course, I felt very sad. I thought that maybe had I reached out to this person more, I could have helped him. Maybe all he needed was someone to talk to in this city of 50,000 people. Just one could have made the difference.

Obviously, it’s too late. I remain grateful for having known him. I’ll remember our long conversations about Carl Jung’s theory of human archetypes, and how much he loved his dog Hanks. He was a good guy, and he will be missed.


So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.