Matt Brundage

Archive for 2015

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Web developer tools

Firefox Developer ToolsThe following link dump represents the web developer tools that I use most frequently, both at my day job and for freelance projects.

Editors and regular expressions

Version control and diffing

FTP and database clients

Documentation and web apps

Browsers

Browser tools and plugins

Graphics programs

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Matt’s first law of aural exhibitionism

reel to reel tape deck The propensity of a person to play back recorded sound in public and unsolicited (for instance, in a store, at the park, or while in the presence of a captive audience such as on the subway) is inversely proportional to the generally-accepted listenability of the music being played and the quality of both the source and the playback equipment.

What this means is that for every kind soul who plays, for instance, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto #4 In G (Allegro)”, “Flamenco Sketches” from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, or take your pick from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, you have literally thousands of people playing lowest common denominator, dynamically-compressed, Auto-Tuned r&b/pop. And no, the teeming masses are not lugging around their vintage reel-to-reel tape decks, tube amps, and Focal Sopras in makeshift portable configurations; they’re playing back low quality MP3s using the tiny, tinny-sounding, $2.67 speakers that came integrated into their cheap carrier-subsidized smartphones.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Munch Dallas Brundage, 2008-2015

Munch on the day we brought him home

July 2008: Munch on the day we brought him home

It is with immense sadness that Annie and I announce the death of our second rabbit, Munch Dallas Brundage. Munch was born circa May 2008 and died on Saturday afternoon, June 27, 2015. He is survived by his adopted brother, Sniff Bun-Bun Brundage, his human sister, Tanya, and his human parents.

Munch was ever true to his name and greatly enjoy meal time; his favorite foods were carrots, kale, and lettuce (in that order). We have seen him finish his own bowl, and then help himself to Sniff’s bowl as well. And of course, he loved to munch on hay throughout the day.

Munch used to do what we call “corkscrew hops,” where he would dash across the room, then leap up and twist his body in mid air. It was a riot.

Munch never liked to be held, but he loved to be petted. He was a very petable rabbit. He would start out in a “Sphinx position” with his two front paws under his chin — kind of scrunched up, but as you pet him, he’d kick out his two hind legs and go into full “long Bunny mode”, with his entire body sprawled out on the floor like a pancake.

When we first adopted him, he was so small that he was able to tunnel behind the shelves in our living room, but as he grew older, he was still trying to go through the same tunnel even after his increasing size caught up with him. For the longest time, he would still attempt to go through his old tunnel.

When Munch was young, he used to go up and down the stairs on occasion. It was the cutest thing watching his butt shimmy down the stairs.

Of the two rabbits, Munch was the laid-back one — in relaxed mode most of the time. Munch was content as long as he got his carrots and his grooming.

Sniff and Munch

April 2009: Sniff (left) and Munch

When we first moved into our current home, the rabbits got their own bedroom at the opposite end of the hallway from the master suite. They were always free to roam around upstairs. Sniff and Munch are not just rabbits to us — they are members of our family. I know that sounds clichéd, but we have to say it. They used to run down the hallway to the master suite, with their ears flopping up and down, like they were about to take off on a runway. We called it the Bunway. Bun-Bun Airlines. Once they got to our room, they’d tunnel under our bed, and used to sleep there — more so when we first moved in. Whenever we got up or disturbed them, they’d thump at us as if we were disturbing their space.

When Tanya was born, we moved the rabbits into the spare bedroom closest to us. The rabbits had previously enjoyed a bedroom with a walk-in closet (a hop-in closet), but now they had to settle for just a regular closet.

Earlier this month, Munch was diagnosed with kidney stones and kidney dysfunction — a fairly typical disorder for domesticated rabbits. On Friday night, we had to put him in overnight intensive care in Virginia, but we knew that the situation was grim. The following morning, the vet called to say that he was not doing well and that he might die in the ICU. The last thing we wanted was for Munch to die all alone without his family, and in a strange place. On Saturday afternoon, we arrived at his side. The vet made it clear that he would not last very long if we brought him home, and that he would be suffering immensely. We had to make the heart-wrenching decision to put him to sleep. We wanted him to remember that Mommy and Daddy were holding him as he drifted off.

We brought Munch’s body home and laid him in his room one last time so that Sniff could say his goodbyes. Sniff had his closure. We’re spending more time with Sniff, as he’s lost his companion. He used to be content to stay in his room with Munch, but lately, he’s taken to hopping around upstairs, looking for us.

On Sunday afternoon, we conducted an hour-long funeral. I said my Catholic prayers and Annie said her Buddhist prayers. We buried him in our backyard under a new rosebush, where we can see his grave site when we look outside.

Today, Tanya asked, “Where’s Munch?” Annie replied, “Munch died and went to Bunny Heaven.”

Tanya and the rabbits

November 2013: Our three babies sharing a snack. Left to right: Tanya, Sniff, and Munch (foreground).

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Tanya’s a planet

Tanya

Tanya grabbed onto the banister in the foyer and pretended that she was riding a horse on the carousel at Wheaton Regional Park.

“Tanya’s on the merry-go-round.”

A light bulb went off in her head as she equated the circular motion of the carousel’s horses with the elliptical orbits of the planets.

“Tanya’s a planet. Planets go around the sun.”

I then asked her, “What planet are you?”

She answered without hesitation: “Uranus.” And, after a few seconds, “Neptune.”

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Long as she’s got a dime, the music will never stop

The other day, Tanya and I were hanging out in my man-cave, listening to records, as we do most every evening. We had been making our way through my otherwise-neglected collection of 45s when I rediscovered a single that I had completely forgotten about, David Wills’ “There’s a Song on the Jukebox.”

Now I hope I don’t have to describe to you what a perfect gem of an old country song this is. As I hit “play” again after the needle returned, the song got me thinking about jukeboxes, but more specifically, the pricing and economics behind them.

From the 1950s, and lasting until even the 1980s, the jukebox was an essential cog in the music industry machine. In rock and roll’s formative years, the price of a single play on a typical jukebox was ten cents, as evidenced by Chuck Berry’s 1956 hit, “Roll Over, Beethoven:” Long as she’s got a dime, the music will never stop. Fast-forward about twenty years and our old buddy David Wills is still feeding single dimes into the jukebox. As inflation had eroded the value of a dime by almost half in the intervening 20 years, a single play on a jukebox in 1975 represented a much better value than it did in Chuck Berry’s era.

But let’s take it a step further and compare a single play in 1956 to an equivalent purchase in the present day. Merely adjusting for inflation won’t cut it, as there has been a marked increase in disposable income per capita in the United States, after adjusting for inflation. Based on the graph (below), it’s safe to say that per capita real disposable income has increased three-fold since the mid-fifties.


Our inflation-adjusted 1956 dime is worth about $.87 today. But that dime was even more valuable back then, as it represented a much bigger piece of the disposable income pie. Adjusting that inflation-adjusted dime for constant real disposable income yields a value of $2.61. Yep.

Would you pay $2.61 today to listen to a two-minute pop song once? Remember that in the 1950s and 1960s, a typical pop song lasted about two minutes. Three minutes tops.

Put another way, would you spend around $60 to listen to an hour of music — music that you wouldn’t even own afterwards? No, you wouldn’t. But you’d likely pay that amount on an annual basis with a music subscription service such as Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, etc. Astounding: the same dollar figure that once provided only an hour’s worth of listening pleasure now provides a whole year’s worth — and with a virtual jukebox with tens of thousands of songs.

Over the past 60 years, the cost of renting music has decreased by 99.9886% on a per-hour basis.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mobile strategy: two opposing philosophies

I wrote this piece last summer, as part of a lively discussion I was having with colleagues regarding the future mobile strategy for FAA.gov. While some of my research and positions are pertinent only to FAA, I have found that most of it can be generalizable to the wider web development community.


We have to be careful when we talk about designing for context vs. having a device-agnostic approach. These two philosophies are opposing. Allow me to explain.

Smartphone usage trends

As of spring 2013, well over half of all American adults are cell phone internet users. Among those cell internet users, 34% use their phone as their primary or exclusive means of going online. This is an increase from 31% in 2012, and from 25% in 2011. In other words, the proportion of those who use their cell phones exclusively to access the internet is trending upward and has been a significant percentage for several years.

Cell-mostly internet users by household income.
Full report: Percentage of cell phone internet users who use their phones exclusively or mostly to go online

Three market trends indicate the rise of small-screen (“mobile”) browsing as a normal, mainstream means of accessing the internet:

  1. cell phone (smartphone) adoption percentage
  2. cell phone internet use percentage, and
  3. cell phone primary or exclusive internet use percentage.

All three of these percentages are steadily trending upward year-over-year.

What does all of this mean?

For a growing proportion of the population, there is no such thing as “device context” or “task context.” (two sides of the same coin) Many people aren’t doing different tasks on different devices because they use only one device primarily or exclusively. And regardless of how many devices users have, they expect content to be available and usable to them on the device that they are currently on.

What some call their “Mobile Strategy” should simply be called their “Strategy.” It should focus on getting all of their content accessible and usable on as many screen resolutions as possible. If a particular piece of content is relevant on a desktop or laptop, then it’s relevant on a “mobile” device. This approach — this device-agnostic philosophy — is echoed throughout the president’s Digital Government Strategy, published in 2012. (Press release) (Device-agnostic means that a service is developed to work regardless of the user’s device, e.g. a website that works whether viewed on a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, media tablet or e-reader.)

“Americans deserve a government that works for them anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”

President Barack Obama

FAA.gov, mobile screenshotWhile developing FAA.gov, I laid the foundation of our device-agnostic approach. With responsive design (CSS rules), I endeavored to make FAA’s pages look at the very least acceptable and readable at any screen resolution. But our work is in no way finished. We can further optimize (both template-level and page-specific) to ensure that pages look and behave their best at smaller resolutions.

Recommendation

If you haven’t already guessed, my recommendation remains that we continue to employ responsive design (CSS rules) on FAA.gov — to build on the foundation that I have already laid — to optimize all of our content for whatever device a visitor will choose to use.

Our other two options involve creating and maintaining two websites. Both of these options involve making assumptions about our users, based solely on their device type or screen resolution.

Assumptions

  • The assumption that there is a clear distinction between “desktop tasks” and “mobile” tasks. This distinction was relevant in the early days of mobile internet — when responsive design had yet to mature and when smartphones were not as capable as they are now. But user expectations and usage patterns have changed and continue to change, as outlined in the section above. People expect websites to work on their device, and FAA must deliver on those expectations.
  • The assumption that we can divine what content our visitors will want to see on their mobile device vs. what content those visitors won’t want to see, or won’t need to see. Content curation is based on this faulty assumption. The whole concept of content curation ignores the reality that smartphone and tablet users are already exploring faa.gov in ever-increasing numbers — to the tune of 24% of all visits, and over 35% on weekends! (July 2014) I can assure you that these ½ to ⅓ of our site visitors are not hopelessly lost and desperately looking for our pared-down, insultingly simplified mobile site.
  • The assumption that a mobile user fits a single, outdated set of characteristics. Can FAA determine the user’s mindset, their “on-the-go” attitude, their location relative to an available desktop or laptop computer, their motivation or intent to consume content, or their information needs based solely on the device that they’re using?

Other problems with a two-site approach

  • Forcing the user to redirect to a separate mobile site flies in the face of the user experience credo that “the user is always in control.” Period. Redirecting the user when that corresponding page does not exist on the mobile site is the worst possible course of action to take, as the content would be inaccessible on that device.
  • The definition of “mobile” is changing, and there is less of a distinction. For instance, is a Dell Venue 11 Pro considered a mobile device, since it is sold as a tablet? Or is it really a laptop, since it comes with an optional keyboard and has the same screen size as an 11″ Apple MacBook Pro? Or is the 11″ MacBook Pro now considered a mobile device? For that matter, is any laptop considered a mobile device when it is used on a plane, train, or automobile?
  • A two-site approach will increase maintenance — perhaps not by a factor of two, but by a significant amount. Maintaining two “separate but equal” websites will introduce programming inconsistencies — when one feature is correct on one site, but incorrect or different on the other. And certain features may be intentionally different across the two sites, but that fact may not be entirely obvious. Over time, it will become exceedingly difficult to determine the “correctness” or current relevance of a given block of code.

In summary

I recommend that we continue to maintain a device-agnostic approach to web development, and to further optimize our content for smaller screens (“mobile”, if you will). Refining and simplifying our content can have a dramatic, positive effect on the user experience — but not just on mobile devices but on the desktop as well.

Works cited and consulted