November 29, 2011

Playfulness and Learning

Michelle Levesque recently wrote a post about the importance of play in learning. We need to change people's mindsets to make them comfortable fooling around, making things, breaking things, and playing on the web. I totally agree. This is one of the design goals of the Hackasaurus tools and events, actually—it’s a combination of stylistic touches and emotional design to help people feel that what they’re doing is fun, along with humane functionality that makes experimentation easier, such as infinite undoability. ... Read more

August 15, 2011

Hacking The Web With Interactive Stories

I recently made The Parable of The Hackasaurus, which is a game-like attempt to make web-hacking easy to learn through a series of simple puzzles in the context of a story. The parable is really more of a proof-of-concept that combines a bunch of different ideas than an actual attempt at interactive narrative, though. The puzzles don’t actually have anything to do with the story, for instance. But I wanted an excuse to do something fun with the vibrant art that Jessica Klein has made for the project, while also exploring possibilities for the Hack This Game sprint and giving self-directed learners a path to understanding how the Hackasaurus tools work. ... Read more

August 8, 2011

The Decline and Fall of The URL

The URL is a very powerful concept; it represents a universal way to access any resource anywhere in the world. Here’s one of them, as it appears in Firefox 5’s address bar: The first few letters before the colon are called the protocol, which tells the computer how to interpret the rest of the URL. The http protocol is the most common and specifies a resource on the World Wide Web, while the tel protocol specifies a telephone number, and https specifies a resource on the Web transferred over a secure channel that can’t be eavesdropped. ... Read more

July 7, 2011

Collusion

I’ve been reading Eli Pariser’s book The Filter Bubble and was fascinated by his description of how data collection companies operate. Independently of that, David Ascher suggested that I add a feature to the Hackasaurus goggles which helps learners understand how cookies and tracking works. I actually didn’t know a lot about tracking myself, so I whipped up a Firefox add-on called Collusion to help me visualize it better. The results were a little unsettling. ... Read more

March 21, 2011

Three Lessons Learned From Hack Jams

The first five Hackasaurus hack jams taught us a lot. Here are a few lessons we learned from them. Know How Much Freedom You Have. At our hack jams in the New York Public Library, we discovered that their publicly-accessible Windows XP machines were so locked-down that we were unable to run Firefox or any other programs off a USB stick. Our prototype Web X-Ray Goggles don’t currently work with the built-in Internet Explorer 8, so we weren’t able to use them. ... Read more

March 14, 2011

Enter The Hackasaurus

I've recently switched projects at Mozilla. I was previously the technical lead for the Jetpack project, but at the beginning of February 2011 I started working on a new project called Hackasaurus: a toolkit and curriculum to help kids and other "non-techies" understand the Web and how to hack it. The origins of this project go back to a blog post I wrote in 2009 called Kids And The Open Web, where I compare a Web page to " ... Read more

November 8, 2010

Adventures in Code Review and Pair Programming

A key component of Mozilla’s development process is code review, which consists of a trusted expert reviewing the material comprising the changes to a piece of software in order to fix a bug or add a feature. This is a great idea for a number of reasons: It helps increase the project's bus factor, or number of people who understand how the software works and why decisions were made. If any trusted member of the community could simply push changes without requiring another person to be aware of them and understand them, then if that person were hit by a bus or truck, some amount of understanding about the software would be lost, especially rationales that could only be uncovered by the conversation that occurs during code review. ... Read more

October 13, 2010

Prelude To Barcelona

I recently wrote about a talk I gave at the Mozilla Summit on What Mozilla Can Learn From 826 National. Shortly after my presentation, Mark Surman dared me to teach a class on Web hacking for non-techies at the Peer 2 Peer University School of Webcraft, which got me thinking about how I’d teach a class in such a distance-learning environment. My favorite kind of teaching is face-to-face, one-on-one mentoring. I think it works well because teacher and student have easy access to each others’ “state”: they can see what each other are working on, and infer how they’re feeling based on body language and other non-verbal cues. ... Read more

October 3, 2010

What Mozilla Can Learn From 826 National

At the Mozilla Summit in early July, I gave a short presentation on what Mozilla could learn from an awesome non-profit family of writing centers called 826 National. One of the many things that really impresses me about this organization is that their chapters ooze with a love for writing and creativity, and encourage and showcase it everywhere. For example, their San Francisco chapter, 826 Valencia, masquerades as a pirate supply store that’s filled with products like kitten and hamster planks, beard extensions, and scurvy remedies—all with hilariously-written labels and instructions for use, and whose proceeds go directly to the writing center’s many tutoring programs. ... Read more

© Atul Varma 2017