Context Queries in CSS

Media queries are firmly established methods for serving custom experiences based on the media being used to access content.

However, there’s no way to an experience based on the context being used. How crazy would it be would it be if this were possible?

Imagine some code that went like:

@context (currently-traveling:yes AND role:driver) 
{ * {display:none;} } /* hide app from a distracted driver }

That’s some scary stuff, privacy-wise, but you know if it were possible people’d be writing it. But just think of what you could do with

environment:outdoors
or
noise-level:loud

Phone as mobile’s days are numbered

The portrait-oriented, single column design approach that’s become so dominant since the advent of smart phones can only last for so long. The new paradigm of wearables, particularly visors/glasses, will see us return to landscape designs. Augmented reality will enable a screen of any size and format to appear in a multitude of contexts. The physical limitations of the handheld phone will become characteristic of a primitive era in the digital age.

On Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma”

It’s no wonder the machine (however you want to define that, the powers that be, the man, our corporate overlords) is mining our data. It’s always mining something: iron, gold, oil, electricity (although the more elegant term for that is harvesting) – it’s just incredible how much data we produce and how easy it is to mine it.

The Social Dilemna does a good job of exposing that, although I could have done without the cheesy scripted stuff. However, it fails to point out the counterpart to our data, and what is in fact infinitely more valuable: our content.

Every post we make-video, photo, rant, tweet, comment, is like food for the machine. Without content, there is no internet. No one logs into Facebook so they can click on ads or fill out surveys or practice browsing habits. They go for content–to consume others’ and to post their own.

Content self-propagates; the machine doesn’t have to invasively collect it, analyze it, reconfigure it, or present it to its paying advertisers, as it does with data. And there’s mountains of it, and we give it away for free!

One of the interviewees suggests that we tax the machine for its data. That sounds great in theory, but I have a hard time understanding how it could be enforced. Instead, they should be taxed on their content they collect. It’s far easier to monitor.

Better yet, we could demand compensation for the food we’re keeping the machine alive with. Kind of like selling the glut of solar power you’re harvesting with your roof panels back to the utility companies. Let’s figure out how to do this.

Stickball

We used to play this all the time growing up. I don’t see kids playing it anymore.

Other sports are easy to get pickup going. You can play one-on-one hoops. 2-hand-touch only really needs 4 players. Same with street hockey.

Baseball is so fun to play, but you never have enough kids, or equipment, or a field. That’s why stickball was invented. Heck, all you need is two kids, really. Offense and defense. One kid hits. One kid pitches and fields. Pitching, fielding, hitting; that’s baseball in a nutshell.

You don’t even need a field. You need a building, one with a nice flat wall (don’t they all have those?), with a parking lot or grassy area in front (again, don’t they all have those?)

I’ve been on a stickball obsession lately. I decided to act on it a bit today, and did a little shopping. Dick’s: various balls (they didn’t have handballs, which is what I really wanted. When I was a kid, the handball truck came around every day after school), hockey tape, orange cones. Michael’s: decent sidewalk chalk (gotta make sure it washes off). Home Depot: three different options for the bat; a dowel, a railing, and a broomstick.

Lastly, I registered stickballgame.com. Stay tuned on that one.

A theme for artists

WordPress is great place for writers. But what about for artists? Are your needs fulfilled by the built in tools WP provides, or do you rely on plugins to present your images the way you want them to look?

Is there a theme that works best for you, or does it lack certain features? Are you concerned about your images being copied or reused in some way without your consent?

Do you prefer to present your images on your site or on social media? What are the pros and cons of either approach?

These are some of the questions I’m hoping to answer over the next few months as I build a theme optimized for artists, and other folks for whom presenting their images online is the primary purpose for having a site.

Pizza is all about context

People who debate about whether or not this or that pizza is the best in the world are missing the point.

Pizza is all about context. It’s different in different places because it needs to be. It reflects the unique lifestyle of a particular area.

Here’s how I see the two styles I’m most familiar with: NYC and Buffalo

NYC

Thin, wide, flat, lots of surface area. Dry, dusty, charred (in places) crust. Fold it, always fold it, but watch out for that grease trough you just made; it’ll get on your favorite sweats and leave a stain; stuff a napkin back there, or better yet, sop up that grease with a few paper towel pats to begin with.

You eat it on the go; you just arrived for a weekend tryst, hungry and cramped from sitting in a plane, then a car, for hours. You need to get to the hotel, arena, playhouse, friend’s apartment, whatever, or you’ll “be late”; there’s always that delay of game penalty you’re running from.

You’re in between things; just been shopping but have some time to kill before the opening. You’re tired; walking all day will do that. You stumble across a glassy exterior with those levels of steamy goodness calling to you from the interior. People are standing in line. In you go, “a slice of plain please”. Whatever the word for pizza chef wields an enormous wooden paddle, slings a cold slice into gigantic steel multitiered cavern, from which emerges your piping hot slice. You shake on a mountain of flavor from the “free toppings tray” as my friend Kip always called it—garlic salt, parmesan cheese, oregano and crushed red pepper—and off you go, back into the maelstrom.

NYC Pizza is NYC. It’s delicious, hot, messy, and made for the constant onslaught of the masses, hungry and late, needing a full, hot belly to keep up.

Buffalo

Fat. Doughy. Thick. Soggy, but with crispy bits strategically implemented throughout; the edges of the pepperoni, the apex of the crust, which when examined resembles the surface the moon.

You’re at a gathering: a party, an event, a celebration, and expecting to eat something. You’re pretty hungry, hangry is more like it. After all, this is Buffalo. People get hangry a lot, driving to and from these gatherings, usually through layers of ice and wind that coat everything.

Eating is a respite. I don’t know how much I want; I just want to dive in. Show me to the party; let me get my party on.

You don’t buy a slice in Buffalo. You buy a pizza. It’s either a party pizza, or a sheet, or a half sheet. It doesn’t come round; if it does, it’s usually kinda squarish, like they are so used to doing angles and can’t shake off the muscle memory for the rare round order.

The pizza is cut up into little chunks. Nothing, really. So easy to grab another one. So likely a perfect bowl of heaven will reside there: that quarter sphere of pepperoni, the rim brown-almost-black, remnants of a combination of olive oil and liquid lard swirled at the bottom, so small it is likely completely uncut, posted there in glory on a field of mozzarella.

What’s that, over there? Wings! Of course. Let’s grab a few of those; some blue cheese as a rule. Oops; my pizza dropped into my dip (or was it the other way around? Queue the old Reeses PBC commercials). All the better; the tang of blue cheese is an amazing complement to the sweet, spiciness of Margherita pepperoni-laden Buffalo style pizza.

Bottom Line

Pizza is too general a term for that staple of our diets, and can’t be compared from one region to another. It’s all about how we eat it.

Contrast is the new context, which was the new content, which was the new format

In the beginning, format was king. The mere fact that we were reading something on the web made it important. It had somehow come to occupy this new medium, which in itself was novel and beautiful and confusing. Whoever put it there had to be smart, and therefore the content as well.

Then, at some point, maybe the early 2000’s, content became king. Your format is getting in the way of our content, we’d say. Enough of the tables, the flash, the jpeg-rendered text. Let us read <pre> formatted courier and be fulfilled.

Then context became king; it was more important where, when, and how readers got the content than what the content actually was. Can I read it on my iWatch? Because that’s how I read stuff nowadays. Is it RTL compatible? Pft, how dare we ignore half the world (if not more)’s readership.

Contrast is next. It’s all we have left. Is it different than what I’ve seen before? Does it stand out? In my daily sea-of-noise, what clambers to the surface, bobbing aggressively for attention like some snagged snapper float? That’s what I’ll read.

Newspaper

I don’t even know what that is
I read something about a 20 million dollar loss
Whose loss? How does one even lose 20 mill?

I spend the next 20 minutes looking for a new car
In the classifieds, and land on one like new
Kelly green
Olds, only 40k and just inspected

I call the number, Al answers
This is Al
Hi, can I see the olds?
Who is this? Jerry?
And I hang up

I settle on an editorial, someone thinks the war on milk needs to end

Teaching

I’m a professor, which I suppose makes me a professional teacher. I instead like to think of myself as a professional learner. I believe that teaching is an extension of learning. It enhances learning. If I can teach you how to do something, it means I have learned it myself. There are other ways to prove this to myself; if someone is paying me to do something, there’s a pretty good chance I know how to do it. But if I can observe you doing it, as a consequence of my having taught it to you, that’s exponentially better proof that I’ve learned it.

How trees work

Looking out my window at the leaves
that finally came in the last few weeks,
and having played this video game Fortnight
where you build shieldish fortresses,
I can see that my tree building a shield
so it can incubate things along its thick brown branches
behind the green ruse we use, we and our crafty cousins,
to ward off the sun who loves the green
and forgets about us, and forgives the trees

Art as Anthropology part 1

I often think of Picasso’s famous quote, “Art is the sum of my destructions”. I’ve always gotten that. Whenever I make art, I feel like the second I’m close to that perfect line, shade, shape or texture, there’s all this pressure that I’m gonna fuck up.

When that happens, I imagine a little Picasso sitting on my shoulder, going “So why not fuck up royally?” And I give in. It’s easy, freeing, and I embrace the fuckup. I slash the pen, gouge the surface, rip it all up.

It never quite works, though. More often than not, I end up with a pile of mess. I chastise myself for wasting my time, paint, paper, canvas. I feel like a failure in little Picasso’s eyes. “You didn’t fuck up hard enough” I can hear him saying.

The little voice is easy to dismiss. Of course I can make something nice. Not destroy it. Nurture it, coax it along in its lousy, spineless, eager-to-please formulaic predictability. Eventually I’ll end up with something having at least a few people gazing, stoking my ego-fires.

But the best stuff I’ve always made happens when I give in. The only way to find that thing, the thing I want to leave behind, is to fuck up. Intentionally. Destroy that clean line, that perfect texture, that awesome font. Force myself to do it again, but better this time. And being aware of my doing it.

The Darkness

I recently read an article about someone who experienced trauma when they were very young, and how it manifested itself for the rest of his life as “the darkness”, a kind of demonic presence that was always looming.

It was a very sad read. Though a very busy person, he found no joy in work, relationships, exercise or hobbies. Eventually, he took his life.

I learned about Bills’ wide receiver Zay Jones’ incident last night, and began to think about it in that the context of “the darkness”. I wonder if he, too, has some kind of burden he carries, tied to experiences he cannot forget or wishes never happened.

I’m also torn up about all the stories coming forth regarding victims of abuse at the hands of those who should be their nurturers. The darkness that follows them must be excruciating. It’s encouraging to see them bringing their stories to the light.

If I had to define depression, it would be this darkness thing that follows you around and can’t be shaken off. I think we all experience it from time to time—something just beyond the horizon, or inching closer behind us in the rearview mirror. Most of us have learned to block it out, or ignore it. At our best, we learn to confront and defeat it. Life is tough, but we persevere.

We label people who are forced to cope with horrifying experiences, and who lack the facility to overcome the darkness, as depressed, mentally ill, unstable. First and foremost, however, they’re survivors, fighters, soldiers, heroes. They are us. We must replace words that marginalize and pigeon-hole with ones that humanize and empower. The darkness doesn’t stand a chance against community.

On Teaching

This spring, I’ll be teaching my age-old 2D Graphics course. Every time I teach it, I spend waaaaay too much time wondering what I should include in the course content. I change it every year.

Adobe is the go-to graphics software company, and that hasn’t changed since they bought Macromedia long ago.

I started off in 2001 with one of the best books ever written on this stuff, Luann Seymour’s Design Essentials. 

Not sure what Luann is up to these days, but it isn’t, and hasn’t been for a long time, making awesome books. Unfortunately, the text stopped updating after a few years of said awesomeness, and as much as I’d like to keep assigning it, Adobe has moved on. Last spring, I assigned the closest thing I could find to Luann’s Masterpiece, and it fell waaayyy short. My course ratings dipped lower than ever.

So I’m back to my age-old question: What are 2D Graphics? How do I teach students about 2D Graphics? What book should I assign; or do I have to write my own book?

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