tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.




I’d like to thank the idiot who shouted “look at those faggots” at us for his keen observation skills and his #everydayhomophobia.



Selling Out and the Death of Hacker Culture is an excellent piece on the commercialisation of hack days.

A few years ago, I was at a big commercial hack day and ended up going “fuck it, this isn’t for me anymore”. I haven’t gone to the big corporate ones since and just tried to restrict myself to the non-commercial, public interest and fun hack days instead.


OptiKey is an open source eye tracking assistive keyboard for Windows, meant for people with diseases like motor neurone disease and amyotryphic lateral sclerosis designed to provide an alternative to commercial software that can be prohibitively expensive.

Open source health software is a really interesting field. Open source medical records software could provide huge savings for hospitals and medical practices, but software that directly benefits patients—and for which support is provided by a peer group of patients—is really going to be pretty revolutionary.





You can recover and change your wordpress.com password without having to supply your two-factor authentication token. Just let that sink in for a moment.

WordPress is such a rich source of infosec comedy.



Medium is Geocities 2.0. It is a beautiful way to share your ideas and stories with the world, until the owners decide they can’t be bothered any more and shut it down or sell it or ‘sunset’ it or ‘pivot’ it or plaster it with fucking adverts or whatever the next excuse is to either delete or ruin all your contributions.

Build the alternative.


Pink News have an excellent piece debunking the lie that Pope Francis is in any meaningful way “pro gay”. Won’t stop the wishful thinking though. People desperately want to believe the hype.


Silicon Valley: where invite-only private members clubs are “meritocratic”, billionaires dreaming of privatising public services is “democratic”, and “disruption” is both a moral imperative and a compliment.


DVLA don't have information on how often their incompetence is detected

A week or so back, I blogged about the DVLA’s incompetence over verifying my date of birth on my driving licence. I also sent in a Freedom of Information Act request to see if they have any data as to how often situations like mine happen.

Alas, they don’t have any data on record about this. They don’t know how often they have to reissue driving licenses due to failures of data verification. This isn’t particularly reassuring. Should you trust driving licenses as proof of identity? That’s up to you. I’d certainly say that my trust of the DVLA’s capacity to verify identities is significantly lower than my trust of the UK Passport Agency. Passports remain gold standard when it comes to government proof of ID; driving licenses aren’t nearly as good.


A fictional conversation about progressive enhancement

“I am disappointed by modern web development. Too many bloated frameworks, too much JavaScript, single page web apps, hash bang URLs—it’s all a bit over engineered. We have lost the old techniques of progressive enhancement and in return we have ghastly nonsense like infinite scroll which looks nifty but does not really improve the user experience. It all seems a bit like we have reinvented the era of Flash intros but we think it is so much better because we have made all this pointless bullshit in JavaScript rather than Flash.”

“I take your point, granddad. Perhaps this technology is excessive for mere web sites but we are building web apps now.”

“At some point someone will give me a clear explanation of the difference, riiight?

“Well a web app is something you can’t really experience without a whole lot of scripting. Like, you can’t progressively enhance it.”

“So a web app is defined as a system that requires the JavaScript excesses for it to work. And the argument for the JavaScript excesses is that we need it to build web apps. That sounds a teeny bit circular to me.”

“Bah. Logic. I don’t need logic. Just because you can’t fit it into your theological categories doesn’t mean there isn’t a distinction. Like, I can point to clear examples of web apps. Gmail! Google Docs! They don’t make sense if you don’t understand them as apps. They don’t fit that old fashioned web pages with little blobs of progressive enhancement model that you grumpy old Luddites keep banging on about. If I want to build Google Docs, I need to do it in the new way.”

“You make a good point. You do kind of need a modern browser with bells and whistles to be able to edit a spreadsheet in Google Docs. The user experience of using that in Lynx is going to suck, so perhaps you don’t really need that.”

“See, this brave new world of apps is not so scary! Shall I help you with your Gulpfile now?”

“Let’s not be too hasty. I mean the argument is that Google Docs is completely useless without all the modern front end stuff all working.”

“Sure.”

“And there is literally nothing you could display to someone viewing a Google Docs spreadsheet or word processing document if, say, their browser had scripting turned off?”

“Absolutely. This is why you need to approach it with an app mindset rather than a document mindset.”

“What is the user editing in Google Docs?”

“Well, rich text files and spreadsheets.”

“Which are types of what?”

“Documents.”

“Can you repeat that word for me?”

“Oh fuck. Documents. You got me.”

“So what could you do if the user loads the page in a browser that doesn’t have the capabilities to edit the document?”

“Well, we could display the document, I guess.”

“And what technology do you need to render rich text and tables in browsers?”

“You know the answer already. HTML and CSS.”

“And if your browser can edit the document—”

“—then it loads the relevant code to edit it. It is still progressive enhancement! I get it.”

“And you can even use your silly Node.js reimplementations of GNU Make if it makes you happy.”

Russian translation



Liberal arts backgrounds have value in technology beyond sales

There is rather a good article currently doing the rounds: That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket. It is good that we are finally moving beyond ridiculous “do STEM or you are failure” kind of nonsense in tech, but the article seems to suggest that with the exception of Slack, the primary use case for arts and humanities backgrounds is to have cultured salesmen (and women) to go impress clients who value things beyond algorithms and so on.

There are a whole lot of people with liberal arts backgrounds in tech. A while back, I was at a meeting of Semantic Web technologists and we realised that all of us sitting round a table had degrees in philosophy, with some also having joint majors in sociology or theology or anthropology. I know developers and designers with backgrounds in languages, in non-computer engineering, in music, in publishing, in media or theatre, and much else besides.

Technologists with backgrounds in the arts and humanities bring enormous amount of value. We want to build products and experiences that chime with humans. Understanding human cultures—how humans think, what humans value, believe in, care about—what matters to humans is something that arts and humanities education emphasises. It’s in the damn name.

Technical culture—Silicon Valley culture especially—likes to make it seem like programming is super difficult, and paint this picture of engineers as heroes. It all contributes to this very flawed Two Cultures model: that people with training in the humanities are incapable of understanding technical matters, and that those with technical backgrounds are completely anti-social and uncomfortable at a gallery drinks reception. Both can be taught and both can be learned.

I want a world where every engineer knows the value and importance of knowledge that falls outside of science, and where every non-technical person grasps the basics of algorithmic thinking. Creative problem-solving people should be enabled rather than limited by their training.


The Verge has an excellent “vintage” review of the Psion Series 5. It is worse than pretty much every device you can buy now, except for one thing… writing.

Good thing that nobody has to write anything anymore, right?


Alphabet graveyard: A for Answers, B for Base, C for Code, D for Dodgeball, E for Etherpad, F for Friend Connect, G for Gears, H for Health, I for iGoogle, J for Jaiku, K for Knol, L for Latitude, M for Meebo, N for Nexus Q, O for Orkut, P for Picasa, Q for Quickoffice, R for Reader, S for Sidewiki, T for Talk, U for University Search, V for Video, W for Wave, X for Google X.

I’m sure Google will discontinue a service starting with ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ soon. Rest in peace.