The Value of Writing CSS

Eli Fitch in a tweet:

Don’t ever let somebody tell you that focusing on CSS doesn’t make you a “real developer”. Being good at CSS is rare, has tremendous value(sic)

This tweet really struck a cord with me. You could of course make the argument that people who write JavaScript to do things that CSS can easily do aren’t the “real developers,” but the point isn’t really to put anyone down as much as it is to add perspective.

I’ve had lots of issues with my professional identity recently. I thought I’d been doing this long enough where the moments where I didn’t know what the hell I was doing were becoming less. Yet, with the emergence of JS frameworks, it can feel like knowing CSS isn’t a big deal.

Fortunately, that thought is only my own insecurities playing a cruel game. Understanding how to write CSS is more important than ever, and while the trend to use JS frameworks is at full speed, CSS continues to be a cornerstone of the web; that’s not changing anytime soon. While keeping up with these developments in JavaScript are important, learning the amazing things we’ll be able to do with CSS soon shouldn’t play second fiddle.

Display Spaces and The Dock

Apple is blowing it with multiple display user experience.

I have, over the course of my personal and professional life, become a lover of Apple products. I liked Apple before it was cool. I liked Apple while it was becoming cool. I liked Apple after it was cool. And I even still liked Apple when it stopped being cool again. But things are not okay in paradise and it has become a very frustrating thing to want Apple to do better and be the company again they once were.

Today I’m going to illustrate one of my long-standing frustrations as a case-in-point.

As a multi-display user of OS X macOS for many years, and certainly prior to 10.9 Mavericks, I had often lamented that items relevant to the window I would be working with on a “secondary” display (mostly the menu bar) would require a mouse trip to the primary display. The Mavericks release was supposed to fix this issue by promoting all displays to the same general status in the system. What I had hoped Apple was doing when this feature was announced was doing away with any distinction between displays. Why must one be designated primary? Why, when going full screen with an app or using Spaces must all other displays be part of the space or blacked out by the full screen app?

Indeed, 10.9 did fix several of these issues. Spaces are now per display—as well they should be—and full screen apps no longer make your other displays useless. Additionally, the menu bar now appears on all displays. These are very welcome improvements and I applauded them greatly.

But Apple did not do away with the “primary display” distinction completely as you can still designate which display is primary for your desktop files and whatnot. This is fine for that purpose. Additionally, your primary display will (initially) contain the Dock and the Cmd + Tab switcher. Now here is the crux of my particular issue. The Dock and switcher being on the primary display would be okay—although I would prefer they be on all screens like the menu bar—but Apple made a decision that will forever confuse the hell out of me. The Dock can switch screens, and the Cmd + Tab switcher follows it. If you do not have the Dock hidden, it can be somewhat difficult to switch screens—you sort of have to place your cursor at the bottom of the screen, stop moving the mouse, then drag down. But I did try living with the Dock un-hidden for a while to see if this would overcome my issue. I still manage to trigger the Dock to move to a non-primary display when I don’t want it to.

On the other hand, when the Dock is hidden, it is very easy to trigger it to move. It moves over to another display as soon as the cursor is at the bottom of the screen. I prefer to run with my Dock hidden for screen realestate purposes since I don’t use the Dock all that often while I’m doing various things. However, I do use the Cmd + Tab switcher constantly. And very often I’m switching between multiple applications at a time so I tend to use it visually. I trigger the switcher, and then either use the mouse or keep tabbing until the application I want is selected. The trouble since 10.9 is where the switcher is located on my displays is unpredictable as I may have accidentally triggered a Dock move to a non-primary screen. This is what we call poor user interface design and a poor user experience. Consistency and muscle memory is key in user interfaces and Apple has completely blown it here.

Here’s what really rubs me the wrong way: it has been blown since 10.9. Apple recently released macOS 10.12 and this behavior has not changed at all. A quick Google search of this issue using various keywords reveals that I am far from the only user complaining about this issue. I found threads dating back to not long after the release of 10.9 begging Apple to fix this problem. It’s not a big problem, but it is one I run into every. single. day. which makes it one of the most annoying problems of macOS I run into. As a vendor of software, you do not want people to become annoyed with your software. But this particular bug (I definitely classify it as a bug) is one I have run into every day since the release of 10.9 and I am definitely annoyed. The only solution to this problem is to disable the setting giving displays their own spaces. But changing that setting has the undesired affect of reverting to the pre-10.9 behavior for the menubar, spaces, and full screen applications. I hate giving up the new and welcome functionality.

I will accept two solutions to this problem:

  1. Make the behavior of the Dock and Cmd + Tab switcher like the menu bar—show it on all displays (preferred)

  2. Keep the Dock and Cmd + Tab switcher on the primary display at all times (not preferred but acceptable)

Neither of these options seem all that hard to implement. But with the release of macOS Sierra, Apple seemed far more content to ship features no one was asking for and, much worse, half-baked features that simply don’t work, don’t have a proper interface, and no one should use (see ATP 189 for more on what I’m talking about).

For three releases we’ve lived with the consequences of Apple not completely thinking through the user experience of Dock and Cmd + Tab switcher migrating displays and not being available in a consistent location and failing to course correct.

This is but an illustration of many of the little straws being piled on the back of the camel, but the burden of straw with Apple software on the Mac is becoming quite heavy and it is my hope that Apple will start paying attention to us once again.

2016’s Subscription Drive Winners

The first annual subscription drive on The Bold Report has come to an end. Here is what happened.

What an awesome week. I published the anniversary post last Monday, and we had quite a few new people visit the site and subscribe. Thank you! We’ve got some great stuff publishing soon.

The Winners

  • Jonathan Simcoe - Spider-Man Box
  • Guy Routledge - Coffee Box
  • Kate McGee - Creative Box

I’ve sent an email or Twitter Direct Message to let these fortunate peeps know. If I don’t get a response within 5 days, I’ll just pick another name at random.

Thank You

Again, thank you all for reading the site. Thanks to all of you who shared our anniversary post, subscribed, and celebrated with us. Hope you’re having a great day, and now back to our regular programming.

You’re Doing the Mac Dock Wrong | Snazzy Labs

I found this great YouTube video to change the animation speed of the dock on macOS. Hiding the dock is great for screen real estate, but the animation is slow. Thankfully you can easily fix this with two commands in the terminal. I figured I’d write it out here so it’s easier for you to copy paste.

Open your terminal and paste the following command:

$ defaults write com.apple.dock autohide-time-modifier -int 0

This command allows you to enter an integer altering the speed of the animation. It can be any number. Experiment with it until you find the speed you like.

To restart the dock and see the new animation speed, enter this:

$ killall Dock

That’s it! Hope you find this useful!

Update from TJ Draper

Apparently 1 is the default, and 0 gives you no animation whatsoever. So TJ recommends using -float so that you can use a decimal value. -int only accepts whole numbers. Here’s what the command would look like now:

$ defaults write com.apple.dock autohide-time-modifier -float 0.2

Much better! The dock is much faster, but there’s still a subtle animation.

The Difference Between “Remote” and “Remote-First” | ReadThink

Paul Farnell on the misconception that remote work prevents collaboration:

In my experience, the inverse is more likely: offices hinder independent work. Collaboration tends to happen in short bursts, followed by longer periods of writing, designing, coding and thinking. It’s more important to give employees quiet time than it is to cram them into an open office.

Paul nails it on the head. The whole open office idea looks amazing in photographs, but makes interruptions a staple of the day. People need quiet, heads-down time. It’s a fact of any type of work.

Later in the article, Paul writes ten ideas that make remote work, well… work. They’re all great, but my favorite is number three:

Lead by example. The behavior of the leadership team influences company culture more than a core values document. When a CEO uses their lunch break to hit the gym, others feel empowered to do the same. And when a manager spends their entire vacation answering emails, it’s harder for others to disconnect in their own downtime.

He’s right. It doesn’t matter what your “core values” say, if they don’t mean anything in practice, they’re worthless. Remote work is born out of the idea that our work lives can be better. If you’re still restricting the freedom and flexibility of your employees, it doesn’t make a difference that they’re working from home.

As with everything, leadership is what dictates whether this works or not. Remote culture is not easy to establish and nurture, but nothing worth it is easy to achieve.

Neonto Tries Their Hand at React

Neonto has just announced the impending release of a new design tool. Neonto Studio allows users to “Build real native mobile apps better and faster.” Their new offering—React Studio—is a design tool that creates single page React.js web apps.

From their site:

Exported code conforms to latest React+Webpack best practices. Image and video assets are properly resized and compressed.

This is both interesting and suspect. Could it be I still have a bad taste in my mouth from Dreamweaver and iWeb? Maybe. Can a machine output code as good as what a human can write? I’m skeptical. The thing is though, Neonto seems to have a pretty decent track record doing this kind of thing.

I’m doubtful this tool will be able to yield high-functioning and scalable web apps. That said, they definitely have my attention. It could be a great gateway into understanding React in a more holistic way—especially for designers.

The Bold Report’s Third Anniversary

The third anniversary is upon us. Here’s an update on what’s been happening with the site, what’s coming, and a special giveaway for readers.

I published the first post on The Bold Report on September 23, 2013. It was an introduction to this new site, and a migration from the personal site where I’d been writing for about five years. As usual, I got a little overly sentimental.

The Bold Report was created as a new Jekyll site—I was done using WordPress to blog. This is what it looked like when I started writing:

Can you believe I thought that looked good? Also, boy has Google Chrome changed!

Personal Growth

When I started this site, I wanted to be the next John Gruber. Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one Gruber and any attempt to imitate him is futile. Plus, I don’t actually want to write this site for a living; I love to discuss a wide range of things and this is my safe place to do that.

Since day one, The Bold Report has come a long way. My writing has improved by leaps and bounds. I’ve distanced myself from the tech pundit I was trying to be at the beginning. Instead I’m just me. In my defense, I was 21 when I started writing here. I’ve grown a lot in three years. Through the School of Hard Knocks, I arrived at who I am and what I stand for. Many of my early stupid opinions were insecurity. Now if I have stupid opinions, it’s because I’m being stupid. Or you’re wrong. Probably the latter 😜.

Development

The way I design and develop this site has also changed drastically. In the beginning I wasn’t concerned with how I was going about making changes. I would commit directly to the master branch and my commit messages were all over the place. Therefore I felt The Bold Report wasn’t a great showcase of my development skills. I excused this by saying it was “my playground”, but in the end I didn’t really understand much of the codebase. And I had written it all! That’s not good.

With the v4.0.0 release of this site, I had to make a change. I trashed most of the CSS I’d written and started from scratch. I was pretty happy with myself. Looking at some of it now makes me want to barf. But I’ll get to it for the v5.0.0. Since about a month ago, I’ve been treating this project more like software. Because really, it kind of is. The site is a product.

So I’ve been using normal git flow by creating branches, then merging via pull requests. Every third or fourth pull request is then drafted into a release. Here’s what a recent release looks like. More than anything, it’s a great way for me to keep track of what’s happening. But if this is your type of thing, feel free to follow along.

Contributions

September saw the first ever contributions to the site by someone other than me! TJ Draper wrote about Apple removing ports from the MacBook Pro and Keaton Taylor wrote about new <video> capabilities in iOS 10. These are exactly the type of contributions I was looking for. I wanted posts that were important and affected the individual writer. This blog is about personal interest, and that creates a path for a beautifully eclectic collection of topics.

How contributions from other writers shape the site will be interesting to watch. If that worries you at all, I assure you that I’m still very interested in writing here and I have the final say on whatever gets published. If you’re interested in writing on The Bold Report, email me at tim@theboldreport.net.

What’s Been Published

In three years, I’ve published some pieces that I’m really proud of:

  • Review: 1Password 4 for Mac – This is my first thought-out review. I love 1Password, so when they asked if anyone wanted to test their then-newest version, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
  • Review: Human Solution Uplift Desk – I wrote an extensive review of my beloved standing desk. 90% of this post was written on iOS and I published it from iOS.
  • My Brief Review Series – My new “Brief Review” series has been very fun to write and lacks the pressure of writing a lengthy review. Some things just don’t need a thousand-word essay; the point is to tell you whether I like the product or not and give you a concise reason why.
  • The Web is Back! – After going to the Future of Web Design conference in New York, I was ecstatic about some of the progress we’ve made in terms of layout on the web. There’s still much work to be done, but it’s a space to watch. Creating the layout and design for the post was a lot of fun too.
  • Burnout. That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means – One of my more recent posts where I had the chance to be totally honest about some of my mistakes.
  • The two posts I wrote about hosting Jekyll on Heroku were a pleasure to write and boy did I learn a lot. Figuring out how to do this wasn’t easy, but once it was done, I was so glad I switched.

In three years, I’ve written more than 300 posts, so this is a very short list of my favorites. Really, they’re all my favorites. I wouldn’t have published any of my pieces if I wasn’t proud of them.

Now for Some Stats!

I did this about a month after launching the site, and it’s time for an update. Unfortunately, I stopped using Google Analytics for a while and just started using it again, so some of their stats only cover the past few weeks. I figured I’d share the numbers that most people want to know: subscribers.

Unfortunately, we had more Twitter followers a month after the site launched than right now. The site’s readership hasn’t grown as much as I’d like. Which brings me to our next section!

Subscription Drive

This anniversary, I’m trying something new. In an effort to get more people subscribed and reading the site, I’ve decided to run a subscription drive. Basically, a whole week where I’ll be reminding people to subscribe, and giving away some awesome stuff at the end. Tell ‘em what they’ll win, Johnny!

The Giveaway

It’s a brand new car! Actually… no, it’s not, but I’ve grouped the excellent swag that I am giving away into three boxes:

Coffee Box

This box comes complete with an AeroPress sent to your home, a three-month Craft Coffee subscription, and a copy of Jolt by Justin Jackson. Basically, once you’re nice and caffeinated, you can apply the awesome tips you read in Jolt.

Creative Box

This gift comes with a copy of Issue 3 of The Great Discontent, a copy of Responsive Design: Patterns and Principles by Ethan Marcotte, and a Moleskine Grid Notebook. This box will inspire you, teach you new things, and then help you get your ideas down on paper.

Spider-Man Box

This box will feed your inner (and outer?) nerdiness. It comes with a bobble-head Funko Pop! Spider-Man, a soft sculpture Spider-Man, and a Spider-Man patch; all exclusives from Marvel Collector Corps. Who doesn’t love Spider-Man?

How to Win

  • Anyone who subscribes via RSS, the email newsletter, or follows The Bold Report on Twitter by midnight on Sunday, October 2 will be entered to win.
  • Current email subscribers and Twitter followers are automatically in the running.
  • If you’re subscribing via RSS—or are an existing RSS subscriber—fill out this form to enter the giveaway. Since there’s no way for me to actually check, it’s on the honor system.
  • You do not have to live in the US to win.
  • I will do the drawing on October 4, and will notify winners via email or Twitter. I will also publish a post announcing the winners.
  • Box assignment will be randomized.
  • Current writers/editors aren’t eligible.

Thank You

I saved the most important takeaway for last. No matter how long you’ve been reading—or if you’re here because you heard you could win something—thank you. Thank you for visiting the site and reading my words.

If you’ve been reading from the beginning, thank you for sticking with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my thoughts. Onward to many more years of writing!

Apple Echo

Mark Gurman and Ian King on Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is pressing ahead with the development of an Echo-like smart-home device based on the Siri voice assistant, according to people familiar with the matter.

Started more than two years ago, the project has exited the research and development lab and is now in prototype testing, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced Apple projects. Like Amazon Inc.’s Echo, the device is designed to control appliances, locks, lights and curtains via voice activation, the people said. Apple hasn’t finalized plans for the device and could still scrap the project.

As a fan of Apple products and Apple the company, it is frustrating to continue to see them lose focus. I know it’s easy to say, “this would never have happened if Steve were alive” and if and when I say that, I don’t say it lightly. And I’m not ready to say that now, actually. But I will say it is improbable that this would be a direction the company would have gone under Steve. The reason I say that is because one of Steve’s ideals—one of the things he championed—was razor sharp focus. Focus is about saying no.

Saying no means saying no to things you know you can do well but just don’t fit. A big part of saying no is also knowing what you are not good at. Apple is not good at voice recognition and voice dictation. Apple is not good at services. The argument can be made—and I would in fact make it—that Apple needs to get much, much more adept at services and Siri type functionality. The thing is, when I speak to Siri, she only gets it right about 95% of the time. You may think that’s a lot, but trust me, it’s not. Not when I can open any of Google’s apps and it gets it right every time. I’m not even joking. And I hear the Echo is the same way.

So here’s my beef: Apple should focus on making what they have great. Bringing another device to the market when they’re struggling in so many other areas to catch up strikes me as a really bad idea.

Apple needs to start saying no again. Don’t make a car. Don’t power my home. Don’t make some sort of social networking thing. Make the best phones, tablets, and computers. Period.

Speaking Most Clearly When Not Speaking At All by Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey Zeldman:

Writing brain and speaking brain verbalize differently for me, I have found. I’m considered a passable conference speaker, and, from friendly conversations to client meetings, I’m rarely at a loss for words. But the ideas I’m able to articulate with my mouth are nothing, absolutely nothing, to those I can sometimes share while writing.

In writing I have clarity of vision and authority of tone that I almost completely lack when speaking with more than one person at a time.

I find this so interesting in that it’s very different from the way I feel. While Jeffrey finds comfort in writing, writing is where I struggle the most. I know who I am when I speak and how to say what I feel, but my writing rarely feels like me.

Design as Branding | Daring Fireball

Farhad Manjoo, in his column for The New York Times:

And while Apple has slowed its design cadence, its rivals have sped up. Last year Samsung remade its lineup of Galaxy smartphones in a new glass-and-metal design that looked practically identical to the iPhone. Then it went further. Over the course of a few months, Samsung put out several design refinements, culminating in the Note 7, a big phone that has been universally praised by critics. With its curved sides and edge-to-edge display, the Note 7 pulls off a neat trick: Though it is physically smaller than Apple’s big phone, it actually has a larger screen. So thanks to clever design, you get more from a smaller thing — exactly the sort of advance we once looked to Apple for.

An important caveat: Samsung’s software is still bloated, and its reputation for overall build quality took a hit when it announced last week that it would recall and replace the Note 7 because of a battery defect that caused spontaneous explosions. To the extent that making a device that doesn’t explode suggests design expertise, Apple is still ahead of Samsung.

To which John Gruber responds:

The Note 7’s larger display in a smaller form factor is, unquestionably, a design win. But I would call the fact that it’s been recalled (and banned from use on all flights) for exploding batteries more than just a “caveat”. And Manjoo’s claim that “Samsung’s software is still bloated” comes just a few paragraphs after he wrote, “Apple has squandered its once-commanding lead in hardware and software design.” Which is it?

Gruber gives Manjoo a lot more credit than I do. His two paragraphs here are completely laughable. Samsung grossly copied Apple design various times, now makes a phone that explodes, and they’re the ones he chooses to compare Apple to? And yes, using the word “caveat” is a major understatement when airlines are banning the phone.

This highlights the problem with critiques of Apple. Instead of critiquing things Apple isn’t actually doing well—their iPhone Upgrade Program, iCloud Space, Apple Music just to name a few—the focus is on creating arguments from thin air about how their best days are behind them. “The magic is gone” isn’t a valid argument, and yet tech critics are paid to write this ignorant word vomit. Obviously Mr. Manjoo, design is something you know nothing about, so either educate yourself or swallow.