Harry Roberts—architecting scalable CSS

Harry Roberts is a front-end architect specialising in CSS. I’ve learned a lot from his thinking and writing over the years, not least his excellent CSS guidelines.

This is a video that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages, so found the time yesterday to view it. It’s very good, very thought-provoking, very practical.

An engineer who writes code should also write essays

Typewriter
A hipster PC (Image by Erik Dungan)

A couple of years ago, I came across an essay by Shubhro Saha, a software engineer at Facebook in California, entitled “Software engineers should write“.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.

He writes,

“An engineer who writes code should also write essays.

“Software engineers should write because it promotes many of the same skills required in programming. A core skill in both disciplines is an ability to think clearly. The best software engineers are great writers because their prose is as logical and elegant as their code.

“[…] Even if nobody reads your essay, writing it will make an impact on you. It will clarify your opinion on a topic and strengthen– or even weaken– your beliefs. The process alone of putting jumbled thoughts into concrete words is valuable.”

It’s a very good essay with a very compelling argument.

At high school I ‘failed’ my English higher the first time round; I actually got a D pass but the school felt that I could do better. They were right: I sat it again in sixth year and got a C.

It wasn’t until I went to university and studied Hebrew that I really began to understand language better. After that I went back to English and read numerous books about syntax, and grammar and punctuation. And I read widely.

I read well-written books and articles and journals. As I read them I stopped to consider why they had been written that way. I questioned why certain words has been used: what effect did they have. I analysed sentence structure. And I observed how simple the best writing was.

And I wrote. I wrote a journal—I still do. And a blog (this one). And a book, which was published in 2007. I’m currently, and slowly, writing another.

Writing helps me to clarify my thoughts. It helps me to express myself better. And if any of it helps someone else, or makes them laugh, or look at something from a different perspective then that’s a bonus.

I suspect that it does also help me write better code. And at the very least: better comments.

If you are a coder then I encourage you to read the article. If you are a writer and are wondering whether you ought to learn to code then perhaps start here: please don’t learn to code by Jeff Atwood.

Update your RSS feed for this blog

RSS feed

This afternoon I moved my blog from the subdomain blog.garethjmsaunders.co.uk to become my main website here at www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk.

If you are subscribing to my blog then please update the RSS feed to https://www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk/feed/.

In the meantime, I’ve got a redirect in place to forward all traffic to the new location.

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a while as my main website wasn’t really offering anything more than I already had on my blog. I also wanted to simplify things significantly ahead of another web host move.

Typography cheat sheet

Typewolf's typography cheat sheet
Typewolf’s typography cheat sheet

This is a really useful typography resource: Typewolf’s typography cheat sheet.

It offers sections on:

  • Quotes and apostrophes
  • Dashes and hyphens
  • Useful typographic characters
  • Accented & non-English characters

There is a single-page printable PDF but it contains only a very small subset of all the characters on offer and without explanation for how each typographic element should be used.

Bookmark it, it’s really useful.

 

 

New tab pages in Google Chrome with a movie theme

Discover a good movie to watch each time you open a new tab
Discover a good movie to watch each time you open a new tab

A few months ago I blogged about a new Google Chrome extension called Momentum that replaces the default Chrome ‘new tab’ page with a beautiful image that changes daily (they have since extended it with a premium version that imports todos from other applications such as Todoist).

Yesterday I received an email from David Gordillo from Noosfeer who have released a similar extension with the less snappy title of New Tab = A Movie to Watch + Watch List, which I shall refer to as NTAMTWWL.

In David’s words,

It is a Chrome extension that delights its users with movie pictures each time they open a New Tab. The more you interact with the extension, the more the recommendations will adapt to your taste.

You have also a Watch List, in which you can collect the movies you want to watch later.

The website, for the company behind it, Noosfeer, however, calls it “a content reader and aggregator.”

Movies

Unlike Momentum, which gives you the same image for 24 hours, in NTAMTWWL the image and movie recommendation changes every time you open a new tab: The Martian (2015), 25th hour (2002), We Are Your Friends (2015), Whiplash (2014).

While you can click on the little plus at the bottom of the new tab page to bookmark that movie, to watch the trailer later, I can imagine that you might easily forget or close a tab before you’ve saved that movie to your list. As I have done a few times since trialling the extension.

Suggested articles

For full functionality you need to register an account with Noosfeer—the usual suspects are available including using your Google or Facebook account.

This is where it integrates with Noosfeer’s content aggregation functionality.

The extension invites you to enter topics that you are interested in, such as technology, movies, etc. Noosfeer then provides links to articles based on your topics. They claim to tailor the articles to your likes as it learns more about you.

Bookmarks

The bookmarks link at the foot of the new tab page takes you to a list of suggested articles based on the topics you have identified, plus movies you have bookmarked, and articles that you have elected to read offline.

The extension page advises that you can synchronise with your Pocket account, but I can’t figure out how—it’s not very straight forward.

Update: It turns out that you need to sign-up for Noosfeer by logging in to your Pocket account. I was expecting that I could create an account (using Facebook) and then from within my Noosfeer account connect to my Pocket account. Simple instructions on the login page may have made this clearer.

Evaluation

Changes too often

My immediate response when looking at the new tab page was that it was attractive. Within just a few minutes I had already found a few films that I never knew about that look really interesting.

If you want to discover new films then this looks like a really ideal and unobtrusive way to do it.

However, even having used the extension for less than an hour I find the continuous change of image distracting. I imagine that if I continued its use it would affect my productivity: always demanding that I pay attention to this new movie to watch… or what about this one? Or this one here? That’s why I like Momentum: I have the delight of seeing a new image each day, but then it becomes part of the background of my day—it continues to inspire but it doesn’t distract.

I would be happy with a new film every hour or two, even one a day.

UPDATE: This has now been changed, so you can select to keep an image for 24 hours.

No 24 hours time format

One criticism I have: I would like to display the time in 24 hours format. While that may be possible, I couldn’t find how to change it. My Windows default is 24 hours format, so it’s not taking its lead from my system.

Noosfeer integration

The settings appear minimal and whisk you off to the Noosfeer website to do nothing more than select topics.

Conclusion

Having used it for just an hour I have discovered a few films that I will certainly look out for. But the continuously changing background I found more distracting than endearing. I just know the way that I work best, and I need more continuity and fewer distractions, but your mileage may vary.

To be honest, personally, I can’t imagine using this extension, as I use Feedly and Pocket almost daily for following the content and blogs that I am interested in. I don’t have room for any more.

But here is perhaps the main issue for me. I expected to be reviewing a plugin that showed different movies on my new tab page, but I’ve ended up writing about a content aggregator.

Overall, I do wonder if this extension is trying to do too much. I felt like I’d installed it under a false pretence. I was surprised after installing it. I was expecting new tabs with movie recommendations. I didn’t expect a content aggregator behind it—I felt a little duped, if I’m honest.

While this isn’t the extension for me, if you are looking for a content aggregator and love your movies then definitely check it out on the Chrome web store.

I do hope they can find a better name, though. Noosfeer New Tab, perhaps.