April 26, 2012

Learning and Grammatical Forgiveness

HTML is a very interesting machine language because, like human languages, most things that interpret it are very forgiving.

For instance, did you know that the following HTML is technically invalid?

  <source src="movie.mp4"></source>

... Read more

March 26, 2012

Storything Interactive Prototype

Last week I merged the Webmaking Tutorial Prototype with the Webmaking 101 for Journalists prototype we made during our three day sprint in NYC in February. The result, which is code-named Storything, is currently hosted at storything.toolness.org. Give it a try! The design for this prototype is based on Jess Klein’s instructional overlay mockups. A separate two-pane editor for example snippets is included in the movie frame; my hope here is that by setting the tutorial movies in an actual editing environment, users will obtain a better understanding of how to use our tool. ... Read more

March 9, 2012

Webmaker Tutorial Prototyping

Recently I’ve been playing around with creating interactive tutorials that teach people how to create things on the Web. Check out this prototype. At the end of a movie-like tutorial, you’ll be given a challenge to write your first bit of HTML. At any time, you can use the scrubber at the bottom-right to review any part of the tutorial; anything you’ve typed so far in the challenge is undone while you’re scrubbing, and is automatically re-applied once you’re back at the challenge. ... Read more

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


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

© Atul Varma 2017