The Space Jam Standard

Friday, June 14th 2019

On a podcast I listened to recently the guests mentioned how the Space Jam was still going strong after all these years. They joked about how it must be running on a forgotten server in someone's closet somewhere at Warner Bros. I smiled and pulled up the site for a little 1996 nostalgia and marveled at its existence. Is it really possible this site has sat untouched since I was a freshman in high school?

Out of curiosity I opened the Chrome developer tools and watched the network requests roll in, just to see what resources from a 23 year-old website looked like in modern auditing tools. Immediately I noticed a few things out of sync with mid-nineties web development practices. The page was loading jQuery, Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.

In case I need to tell you, none of those things existed back then. Google would not be founded for 2 more years. It would be a solid decade before jQuery would appear. Even a close look at the header information showed me something amiss, as the site is clearly running on Amazon S3.

I suppose, just as the Sistine Chapel must be restored from time to time to be preserved for generations to come, so must spacejam.com be upgraded and moved to better infrastructure. Clearly the site has not been running untouched since Michael Jordan came out of his first retirement. Warner Bros has secretly maintained this odd little corner of the web throughout that time.

At least it's essence remains intact: archaic, table-based layouts, repeating wallpapers, clunky games reliant on browser navigation and inexplicable content by today's movie promotion standards like a downloadable AIFF audio file of Bugs Bunny comparing stand-up comedy to slavery.

Web Performance & Accessibility: 1996

Out of further curiosity, I can a Lighthouse audit on the site. Space Jam holds up surprisingly well in Google's eyes:

Space Jam Lighthouse Scores

It scored 100 in Performance, 83 in Accessibility, 79 in Best Practices and 64 for SEO.

I also analyzed the site using the AXE Accessibility Testing Chrome Extension. It exceeded my expectations, finding only 10 issues:

Space Jam accessibility report

The most serious usability issues were rated serious by the audit and resulted from a lack of sufficient color contrast for some of the text, which didn't surprise me too much.

Web Performance & Accessibility: 2016

Yesterday Dropbox wrote a blog post announcing a new redesign for their product. I haven't tried it yet myself, but the redesign was largely lambasted in the parts of the web I click through. However, I'm more concerned after running a similar audit on their blog post.

Spoiler alert: Space Jam holds up better than Dropbox's 20MB—yes, twenty megabyte—blog post:

Dropbox 20mb blog post

This monstrosity scored 52 in Performance, 71 in Accessibility, 57 in Best Practices and 91 for SEO.

More egregiously, it even seems to be somehow less accessible than a site from 1996 with 31 issues:

Dropbox accessibility report

A good number of these issues were rated critical by the audit and consisted of much more concerning issues: buttons without text, no alt tags on images, missing form labels and more.

How does this happen?

Honestly, I don't know. My first reaction was, this is what happens when you need to justify your VC money—spend it all on massively over-engineering everything. But that's a bit cynical. Even if it's accurate.

I'm singling out Dropbox because of the timing, but much of the web feels like an over-engineered garbage pile. It is a very brilliant and cleverly engineered pile that many very talented people have banded together to help construct, and I'm not disparaging the many wonderful, talented and bright people that build these things. But making things complex and clever does not make them good or useful to people.

Henceforth, I'm going to start using a new benchmark when I measure the performance and accessibility of a site. I'm going to call it the Space Jam Standard: A movie website from 1996 should not be more accessible than or out-perform a blog post in 2019.

Edge Canary Supports Shape Detection API

Tuesday, May 21st 2019

The macOS version of Microsoft Edge Insider was released today at microsoftedgeinsider.com. Currently only the Canary Channel is available, which is updated daily. The more stable Beta and Dev channels will likely become available in the coming weeks as we run the gauntlet between Microsoft Build, Google I/O, WWDC and probably some other developer-centric events I'm forgetting about that happen this time of year.

The new version of Edge is built on Chromium, which is kind of a bittersweet victory for the web depending on how you look at it. On the bitter side, choice and differentation is one of the things that makes the open web great. No one company owns the web, nor should it. For all the things it does well, adopting Google's project to power their browser feels like Microsoft ceding a little too much control to Google's grip on the web, even if I think they've generally been decent stewards.

On the sweeter side, troubleshooting and debugging a Chromium-based browser is going to be much nicer than dealing with Edge! While I was at Microsoft Build the other week I asked a question about whether or not the new Edge would support the Shape Detection API. It's currently available in Chromium hidden beneath the experimental web features flag found at chrome://flags.

I asked about this while I was speaking at Microsoft Build the other week:

Long-story short—looks like you can! Just go to edge://flags and you'll find an identical screen.

Once you've enabled this you should be able to view this demo at my slightly neglected project Debugging Art:

debuggingart.com/sketch/shape-detection-dva-brata/

Though my feelings are still mixed on the state of browser homogeneity, I do think it's cool that features like this might become wide-spread more quickly.

Texans in Hong Kong

Monday, April 29th 2019

When you travel, sometimes you meet people. Really, you're practically guaranteed to meet and interact with someone when you traverse the globe 6,500 miles. What's less predictable is how, who and where these meetings occur.

In 2013 I met a Texan names James in the a hotel basement restaurant. It was not a place I was staying or an intentional destination. Par the course that year, I'd taken off for the day with my laptop in-tow, intending to stop and catch-up on my work when the time and opportunity presented itself. On this day that happened to be in a nondescript, hotel basement restaurant in New Kowloon.

I probably ordered a coffee—I can't remember— and sat to work a bit. I'd noticed James when he came in, his being the only other Western face in the vicinity. When he sat down initially I didn't say anything. I was preoccupied with something on my computer, probably catching up on emails from other timezones. After a little bit he motioned to catch my attention. I'd tried to ignore him at first, when we made eye contact, but eventually I acquiesced and looked up.

"English?" He asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Where from?"

"The U.S.," I told him.

He laughed. "Damn, you're so quiet! I thought you were Russian. English. Yes!" His Texas drawl was now unmistakable as he turned his chair to face me.

He proceeded to tell stories of disbelief about his ability to get children's books published in China. Somehow his various patents were involved in this as well? I was still trying to process what he might do for a living when he told the story about a man who tried to charge him to visit a golf course he'd previously visited many times before. He responded with a practiced rant about how he would pay when every bootlegged movie and Nike out of China was retroactively paid for. It was a little like listening to Yosemite Sam make his case for instigating a trade ware.

My contributions to the conversation were mostly polite nods and affirmations. Eventaully he asked what I do. "I make websites," I told him, as I tell most people. I cringed a little—saying you make websites is like catnip to certain kinds of serial entrepreneurs. I quickly followed up with letting him know I had to be somewhere soon.

His interest was piqued and he said we should exchange information.

"Here, I'll write it down for you," he said. I offered him a pen and paper as he carefully wrote on the slip I'd torn from my notebook, folded it a couple times and handed it back to me. We exchanged some final pleasantries and I left.

The rest of my day went about as they tended to that year—adrift in an almost dreamlike state, wandering, looking and wondering endlessly at the world around me, stopping when I was hungry, thirsty or needing to catch up on something.

Eventually I made it home for the night and put my things away. I emptied the coins and treasures from my pocket and felt James' piece of paper. "Oh right," I remembered. It had slipped out of my mind the moment I'd slipped it in my pocket.

I wondered, maybe something will come of that? Maybe I'll reach out to him or connect on LinkedIn or something, and somewhere down the line it'll be a connection I'm glad I made. Curious, I opened the paper to see what his contact information was and look him up.

All it said was: James Pickett... Texas.

You won't believe this, but there are a lots of James Pickett's in... Texas.

James Pickett — Texas