Emotional Rich Alt Text

I’m guilty of not taking the care to consider people with different abilities compared to my own. As a person of the Internet, I spend a lot of my free cycles thinking about writing, developing and making things for the Internet. Often, those projects include images which I do my best to include Alt text for anyone using a screenreader to browse what I’ve produced. I feel more guilty for not having thought about the depth that I describe those images.

This old post by Léonie landed in my lap recently and it shook me up:

A good alt text can conjure up wonderfully stimulating mental images. A friendly smile is the same in print, photo or wax crayon.

Whether you listen to an image or see it, the emotional response is the key factor, so why should we recommend that these emotion rich images should be given a null alt text and hidden from screen reader users?

I now think—obviously?—the emotional power and content of images should not be confined to the sighted. If an image is important enough to spend my bandwidth on, to share with everyone who visits my weblog, then I should consider the different means of consumption that someone could choose.


To pull off on a tangent for a moment, I think there’s a wider discussion that should be had about metadata in general. Knee-jerkingly, I consider most metadata to be anywhere from neutral to chaotically evil: used by the powers that be to identify, track, categorize, target, etc. Think of Instagram/Facebook and location metadata, or the invisible fingerprints left after calling someone—all ways to make associations whether helpful or incriminating. Perhaps, I should spend more effort thinking the wide variety of microformats that contribute meaning to the weave of our shared Internet fabric.

October 02, 2018

System Font Stacks in CSS

I’m going to need to remember these for later, so I figure what better place than to stash them here. (As an aside, I love Pinboard and Pocket but my habit for checking them lately has completely disappeared. It feels easier to pluck up the energy to post here than to check any of those places where saving content is effortless.) I have one link for default sans-serif font stacks and a monospaced version:

  1. System Font Stack CSS Snippet by CSS-Tricks
  2. CSS System Font Stack Monospace v2
September 21, 2018

Text Encoding, Amirite?

Sorry about all the screwiness around that last post—particularly if you follow via RSS. Tried to make a quick edit, but no, that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I spent the last fifteen minutes trying to format, reformat, branch, re-encode, merge branches, before I finally just deleted the whole thing and started over.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying I’ll try to be better.

Vapid

I try not to get too excited by new CMS technology, it comes and goes too quickly. Most people want a reliable and stable platform, hence why Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, etc., are the go-to CMS services. I wouldn't dream of recommending anyone turn to any other solution, unless they knew what they were doing.

That all aside, Vapid is really something else. It's built “for people who build websites for other people” and they mean it because this system creates fields in a backend dashboard from the front end, not the other way around. It's hard to get across without diving in but just know the only required skill is HTML, no React, no Angular, no PHP, just HTML.

Look into the Glitch instance if you've got some time and perhaps you'll understand why I'm excited (for my own purposes) about Vapid.


Update: 2018-09-20 19:57

Having had time to think about it, I am reminded of services like Perch and Concrete5 which follow the same methodology for laying out their backend. While I know the latter two (particularly in Perch's case) are battle-hardened for production use, I am not as convinced about Vapid. On the official site, two high-traffic production examples are listed. I think I might have a bit of I-don't-know-therefore-I'm-afraid syndrome. Perhaps, with the ability to generate a static website from either the command line, or, preferrably, the interface would shake some of that fear out of me.

September 10, 2018

Flickr Is Alive Again

It wasn't so long ago that Smugmug had announced a purchase of the early Internet darling Flickr. For years under Yahoo's stewardship the service had decayed. I spent years trying to get an old account—tied to Yahoo!'s (I still despise that exclamation point) self-destructing mail service—closed to no avail. Non-existent email support and relying on public forums for hints at possible access to a human on the inside. It was a mess. Clearly, the lights were on but no one was home.

On Saturday, I have support another shot, having vaguely remembered that someone else controls Flickr. The support team at Flickr/Smugmug is alive and well. I had no problems getting the account closed after proving that it was my account.

I'm not sure how Flickr will fare in today's market, but it's clear the people behind it care about Flickr's future, in a way it was clear that Yahoo! didn't or couldn't.

I Made a Mistake

I have a lot of sympathy for Jeff’s computer problem. How do you juggle multiple devices in a workflow?1 I have gotten past this problem only by specifying a particular domain, best suited to each machine and choosing the only one that can do the work. My iPad is my main machine for writing, responding, developing (remotely), etc. and my Mac plays second fiddle based on a very, very specific set of usecases. I use the desktop only for large scale design work and website testing.2 It took a long time to work out those uses cases but I just had to keep bashing my head against it.

The tougher problem for me was the discipline required to keep from replicating all of the workflows I have on the iPad on my Mac. I wonder if Continuity wasn’t the best feature for iOS and Mac. I mean, what people needed was a shared files platform, which we have now with iCloud Drive, and apps that can access those files. If you can get to the work, then you can get working, right?

Yet, as soon as we had apps that could share the exact same workflows, then we pushed developers to include the exact same features and functions in all places. As soon as you start targeting parity across multiple platforms, then you begin to water down the strengths of all of them. So, now it is just a favourites game. You took work with you on the iPad because it was the newest, hottest release, but you went back to the Mac because, spiritually, you never left. It was just too easy to slide across when everything “looked” the same. It was too hard to pull our collective focus from the centre of the Venn diagram to appreciate its edges.

Believe me when I say I speak from experience. I have spent more money than my spouse would care to hear on technology that I ultimately couldn’t allow myself to enjoy for what it was. Buy a computer for a very specific use, spend ten minutes setting it up for that exact function and waste away multiple hours trying to hack together that “one thing” that would make it even better: rinse and repeat.


  1. I am definitely projecting here—I have no reason to think I speak for Jeff, nor anyone else—but I wonder how often, hidden behind the question, “How do I juggle multiple devices?” is the sentiment, “I am sad I can’t use my favourite things?” I love computers. I love software. I feel better when I can think of clever ways to use them. But that flies in the face of a tool’s job, to sink away, to be an invisible extension of the person doing the work. The joy of fiddling for productivity’s sake and the reality that George R.R. Martin can write his novels on DOS present a psychic pain that I have yet to really acknowledge. 

  2. These days, I could probably hire a SaaS for each of those problems, like Figma and Browserstack

August 20, 2018

Quick Update

Ya, it’s been a spell. Here’s three, quick—I promise—little updates for those who care:

  1. I have the Internet… in my home! It’s glorious, like unadulterated starlight.
  2. My server migration has gone through swimmingly. I was on Ubuntu’s 14.04 LTS (codenamed “Trusty Tahr”) release, which was no bueno, and now I have successfully transferred to a new VPS running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS (codenamed “Bionic Beaver”). The former was EOL and the latter is the new hotness from Canonical.1
  3. Professionally, I am in a strange no man’s land. I have a work contract, which appears to be a zero-hour contract :'( and it doesn’t start until early September, which leaves me with a few weeks to work on other things. Maybe I’ll start a new creative project, or perhaps, I’ll just learn something new. Udemy, here I come.

  1. Something I hadn’t realised was just creating a new Digital Ocean instance bumped up the RAM and disk available to the droplet. So, Digital Ocean have been more generous in the 3 years I had the original VPS running. 

August 07, 2018

Slow Reading

Life feels like it’s flying past. Each day minutes crawl by minute by minute, like treacle flowing in mid-winter. Yet, months and years pass without my even noticing them go. Life on the internet moves at equivalent speed but with unimaginably immense volume.

I learned to swim, well enough, as a kid. You need enough coordination to keep your head above water long enough to take an occasional breath. I’m decently computer literate but I learned to swim in the tiny community pool of the early internet, while the modern ocean of digital communication snuck up behind me.

I didn’t realise I couldn’t keep up until my head couldn’t breech the surface any longer: notification badges, push messages, real-time updates, microblogs, social media and I digress. Every time I got ahold of one, my lizard brain would light up at the prospect of another “enhancing my productivity” and off the cycle would repeat itself again. It seemed like I couldn’t help myself.

I won’t go long on the morass of the Internet advertising industry, the addictive properties of our devices, or the weak will of modern “millennials”—hey there!—but there’s just too much coming down the pipe and all of it is designed to hit that limbic system sweet-spot. We all know this is not healthy behaviour, so how to balance information overload and generally wanting to be in the loop?

The easiest answer is just to say, “No.” I say the easiest, yet what I mean is its the easiest way to patronise your friends. Remember how well that advice worked for drugs, premarital-sex and Twitter flame wars? Yeah.

I’ve managed to get ahold of my information diet (for now, honestly) using two methods of my own devising and one forced on me by circumstance (note: your milage may vary). First, I cut twitter down, mentally, to a one-way valve. I have something to share, I share it and if anyone wishes to get in touch, then we have a brief chat; otherwise, I don't look at my timeline. This behaviour was made easier still by getting rid of any client applications on my devices, instead I have to load up their mobile website... which is fine.

Second, I turned back to an RSS reader, like the cool kids, that I host on a mostly unused server. Right now, I'm running TT-RSS for my backend, a plugin to make it emulate the late great Fever API and an RSS client on my iphone (it's Reeder if you must know). The fiddly-ness of this is an important ingredient in my scheme.

I could locally pull the feeds or use a different backend, like Feedbin or Feed Wrangler, but if I did that, then I would have a constant trickle of new things to read and the pull to load up evermore sites into my queue. I know myself. I know I can’t be trusted with real-time or convenience. So, TT-RSS is pulls articles every half hour and I have to add new feeds through the web interface, which makes “increasing my productivity” a huge pain; therefore, I never do it and my mind is squeaky clean of internet-born anxiety. (Leaving plenty of room for my meat-space-born anxieties and other human foibles.)

I mentioned another way I've kept sane, this one is very new, only in the last week has Fortune decided to curse me with such restraint: I haven’t had access to the Internet at home. Before you cast your slings and arrows, know that the two previous have been happily in the works for months. But, I do take your point. Living like Richard Stallman has allowed me to dig my head fully into the sand, and like Rich (???????????), I suspect its all fine.

Canadian internet access, whether cellular, cable or DSL, is an absolute scam. An oligopoly in ways I couldn’t fathom until back from Europe, where I paid ~£20 a month for (nearly) unlimited 4G data and here I pay, what, 6–7 times that for 4GB of data. Cable internet is not much better, with decently fast downloads (with 0.10x the upload speed) clocking in at nearly $100 per month.

Unlike the Merchant of Venice, the powers that be have extracted their pound of flesh (minus the fluids that now fill this husk of a human being). They have the money—all of it. I’m now just a sucker waiting on delivery :'( Thus, I hike to a local coffeeshop every day or so and order the finest, cheapest coffee they provide so I can git push fine content like this to the ether.

That massive rant behind me, I do feel better for being less connected. A small bell dings in the back of my mind from time to time, wondering on what I’ve missed. Generally, I am getting by just fine without drinking from the firehose. Though, who knows what will change when the next internet darling rises from the ashes of Facebook. I'm sure if my lizard brain grabs the reins I’ll be strapping an Amazon project directly into my frontal lobes and happily pay for the privilege.