2019

  • Google Slides, under the hood

    Interesting: I hit ‘view source’ on a Google Slides project this morning, to try to extract an image someone had uploaded and I noticed that the ‘slide’ code is all inline SVG (which is to say, XML). The image I was looking for turned out to be an <image href="..."></image> tag rather than the <img src="..." /> I expected. You can even download your slide as an SVG file.

    Makes a lot of sense to do it that way, now that I think about it; any given slide is type and graphics positioned in a fixed frame, which is precisely what SVG was built to do. In that sense, Google Slides is really just a big graphical SVG editor.

    That would also help explain why it’s so fast - I’m guessing that when you resize something, the JS is just changing the x/y/w/h coordinates on that particular XML tag, and then the browser does the rest as far as rendering goes.

    I guess I’d just presumed that Google Slides’ power was only possible through some kind of black magic, involving unspeakable things with canvas elements and a million lines of Angular script talking to a thousand AI server farms. But (on the front-end, at least) it looks like pretty straightforward, standards-compliant, remarkably clean HTML5. I’m impressed to see that, and also really drives home to me just how capable modern browsers are. This is the kind of thing they’re capable of, more or less, out of the box.

  • CPT is bringing the weird back

    The “Center for Philosophical Technologies” has one of the weirdest websites I’ve seen in awhile. Somebody really went nuts with RGBA and background-gradient. The UI is almost defiantly irrational, with odd punctuation everywhere, navigational elements strewn around the layout like somebody upended a box of tracing paper, and even their ‘logo’ is pulled apart and scattered across the top of the homepage (literally) at random.

    And yet… it’s really quite usable nonetheless.

    At first glance it just feels inscrutable, but after a few seconds of playing with stuff you can see there’s a logic to it. It speaks its own alien language, but the grammar is consistent and easy to learn.

    Looking at this site makes me feel kind of wistful, like when you hear an old song for the first time in 15 years. This brings back a rush of good memories of the odd and experimental websites that seemed more common in the early aughts, back when the rules for UX hadn’t really been written yet and, I dunno, people were maybe just more willing to try stuff.

    It’s cool to see that this kind of experimentation — this kind of wonderful fun weirdness for the sake of being weird — seems to be coming back as new CSS features are more widely supported and (maybe more importantly) as I guess we all are getting bored with following formulas.

  • Birchbark: Louise Erdrich’s bookstore

    If I’m ever in Minneapolis, visiting Birchbark will be at the top of my list. It’s a local bookstore founded by one of my favorite authors, the legendary Louise Erdrich, and it sounds wonderful. It sells all kinds of books but specializes in Native American authors and culture, including a wide selection of language instructional books, including Ojibwe, Dakota, Lakota, and Inuktitut.

    I can imagine that when you walk in the place smells like wood and ink and new paper and maybe coffee. Just as a perfect bookstore should.

    I’ve grown up with Erdrich’s work; The Master Butcher’s Singing Club is a book that means a lot to me which I’ve returned to a few times over the years. It’s hard to sum up how her work has affected me but, at the very least, her stories have taught me a lot about what it means to be American and how that notion is both more complex and more simple than it may seem. I dunno. Just read her stuff, you’ll see. Or, better yet, visit her store.

  • Cover image

    Finished a new sketchbook

    I finished a new sketchbook last night! I’ve been meaning to make a new one for myself for awhile but kept get sidetracked on other things. Finally done.

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  • ‘Mild’ peril

    I watched an animated movie with my 4-year-old daughter tonight and, as it started, I noticed the MPAA rating as it flashed by: RATED ‘G’ FOR MILD PERIL. For some reason the phrase MILD PERIL got stuck in a kind of processing loop in my head. Maybe because I’ve always thought of peril as a binary state: either I’m in peril or I’m, you know, okay. I never really thought of it as something that needed to be quantified.

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  • Techna Sans

    A nice open-source sans-serif

    Really nice to see more and more strong fonts being released under open-source licenses. This one is particularly lovely - I have a soft spot for these chunky humanist typefaces and I love the little details in this one, like the angle-cut terminals and the treatment of the lowercase “t”.

    I hope the community keeps developing it; I’d especially love to see where they might go with additional weights and styles.

  • Levi Walter Yaggy’s amazing geographic illustrations

    I’m really blown away by these maps and diagrams created by Levi Walter Yaggy, and published in 1887 in his folio book Geographical Portfolio - Comprising Physical, Political, Geological, and Astronomical Geography. Each page was 2 by 3 feet and the large graphics were intended to be used in the classroom as a teaching aid.

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