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

June 23, 2011

The Challenges of Developing Offline Web Apps

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, there's a lot of usability problems that make writing an offline web app difficult. When writing a "native" client-side app using technologies like Microsoft .NET or Apple's Cocoa framework, it's assumed that everything your program is doing, and everything it needs, is already installed on the local device. Anything not on the local device needs to be explicitly fetched over the network. ... 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 4, 2010

Reviewer Dashboards

As I mentioned in my post on The Social Constraints of Bettering The Web, finding a code reviewer can be difficult in Mozilla projects. At least, it’s definitely the case with the Jetpack SDK, which I’m actively involved in as both a reviewer and contributor. Last week, on casual observation, it seemed like Myk Melez had been getting a lion’s share of code review demands placed on him. While I had some theories on why this might be the case, I also realized that I had no idea what the big picture was as far as code reviews were concerned. ... Read more

September 30, 2010


Over the past few years, I’ve made a number of little Web applications that are actually just HTML pages. Building things this way is really fun and really simple. It’s easy to understand and remix because there’s no custom server-side infrastructure to complicate matters. In some ways, it’s just like writing my first Web pages in the 1990’s, only now I can use JavaScript for more than just image rollovers. ... Read more

September 2, 2010

Participatory, Scalable, Transparent Competitions

I’ve been involved in the judging pipeline for three competitions now. Today, I judged for an inspiring competition called Node Knockout, held by Joyent and Fortnight Labs. The first two competitions I participated in didn’t scale. I wasn’t even a judge for the first one—we had a tiny handful of celebrity judges who couldn’t possibly review all of the submissions, so me and some colleagues furiously attempted to cull the list down for them. ... Read more

August 31, 2010

The Social Constraints of Bettering The Web, Part I

I’ve recently been proud and inspired to see two new features land in the latest Firefox 4 betas: Web developers can now access the raw audio data in <audio> and <video> elements, and Firefox Panorama helps users manage their tabs. In his excellent post Experiments with audio, conclusion, Dave Humphrey mentions the following Tweet from Joe Hewitt: Bottom line: we can currently only move as fast as employees of browser makers can go, and our imagination is limited by theirs. ... Read more

August 29, 2010

My First CrisisCamp

On Friday I attended CrisisCamp Silicon Valley. I didn’t really know what to expect, since I was unfamiliar with the nascent field of internet-facilitated crisis response and was unable to find a high-level overview of how people—both techies and non-techies—can really make an impact. The Bird's Eye View As I understand it, this is the big picture of internet-facilitated crisis response: People on the ground in a disaster are told, through various channels, to report what they're seeing to the public through a variety of media: SMS, Twitter, Facebook, whatever's easiest and most understandable for them. ... Read more

August 24, 2010

A Dashboard for Bugs

Early this year, I had to start using Mozilla’s Bugzilla, an issue tracker that, while incredibly powerful, nonetheless confused and intimidated me to no small degree. One of my most basic needs was to have a simple display containing bugs of interest to me. I couldn’t find a page in the product that satisfied me, so I used Gervase Markham’s excellent Bugzilla REST API to create an HTML page that fetched the information I needed and displayed it. ... Read more

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