How I got into web development — the long version

I’m often asked how I got into web development, especially from people that haven’t met many women in the field. Other times it’s people with little kids and they are asking for guidance about how to steer them into programming. I promised them that I would write a long post about it at some point, and now that I’m in the verge of some big changes in my life, I’ve started reflecting on the fascinating journey that got me here.

Rebecca Murphey wrote something similar a while back (albeit much shorter and less detailed), and I think it would be nice if more people in the field started posting their stories, especially women. I sure would find them interesting and if you give it a shot, you’ll see it’s quite enjoyable too. I sure had a blast writing this, although it was a bit hard to hit the “Publish” button afterwards.

Keep in mind that this is just my personal story (perhaps in excruciating detail). I’m not going to attempt to give any advice, and I’m not suggesting that my path was ideal. I’ve regretted some of my decisions myself, whereas some others proved to be great, although they seemed like failures at the time. I think I was quite lucky in how certain things turned out and I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster daily for them.

Warning: This is going to be a very long read (over 3000 words) and there is no tl;dr. Continue reading

Pure CSS scrolling shadows with background-attachment: local

A few days ago, the incredibly talented Roman Komarov posted an experiment of his with pure CSS “scrolling shadows”. If you’re using Google Reader, you are probably familiar with the effect:

Screenshot demonstrating the “scrolling shadows” in Google Reader

In Roman’s experiment, he is using absolutely positioned pseudoelements to cover the shadows (which are basically radial gradients as background images), taking advantage of the fact that when you scroll a scrollable container, its background does not scroll with it, but absolutely positioned elements within do. Therefore, when you scroll, the shadows are no longer obscured and can show through. Furthermore, these pseudoelements are linear gradients from white to transparent, so that these shadows are uncovered smoothly.

When I saw Roman’s demo, I started wondering whether this is possible with no extra containers at all (pseudoelements included). It seemed like a perfect use case for background-attachment: local. Actually, it was the first real use case for it I had ever came up with or seen.

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git commit -m “EVERYTHING”

I was working on a project today, when I realized that I had forgotten to commit for days (local only repo). I switched to my terminal, spent at least five minutes trying to decide on the commit message before settling to the completely uninformative “Another commit”. Embarrassed with myself, I shared my frustration with twitter:

The awkward moment when you realize you forgot to commit for days & you can't pick a commit message as nothing describes all these changes.
@LeaVerou
Lea Verou

Immediately, I started getting a flood of suggestions of what that commit message could have been. Some of them were hilarious, some clever and some both. So, I decided I wouldn’t be selfish and I’d share them. Enjoy: Continue reading

In defense of reinventing wheels

One of the first things a software engineer learns is “don’t reinvent the wheel”. If something is already made, use that instead of writing your own. “Stand on the shoulders of giants, they know what they’re doing better than you”. Writing your own tools and libraries, even when one already exists, is labelled “NIH syndrome”  and is considered quite bad.
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Flexible multiline definition lists with 2 lines of CSS 2.1

If you’ve used definition lists (<dl>) you’re aware of the problem. By default, <dt>s and <dd>s have display:block. In order to turn them into what we want in most cases (each pair of term and definition on one line) we usually employ a number of different techniques:

  • Using a different <dl> for each pair: Style dictating markup, which is bad
  • Floats: Not flexible
  • display: run-in; on the <dt>: Browser support is bad (No Firefox support)
  • Adding a <br> after each <dd> and setting both term and definition as display:inline: Invalid markup. Need I say more?

If only adding <br>s was valid… Or, even better, what if we could insert <br>s from CSS? Actually, we can!
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A List Apart article: Every time you call a proprietary feature “CSS3”, a kitten dies

My first article in ALA was published today, read it here:

Every time you call a proprietary feature “CSS3”, a kitten dies

Some comments about it on twitter:
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Vendor prefixes, the CSS WG and me

The CSS Working Group is recently discussing the very serious problem that vendor prefixes have become. We have reached a point where browsers are seriously considering to implement -webkit- prefixes, just because authors won’t bother using anything else. This is just sad. 🙁 Daniel Glazman, Christian Heilmann and others wrote about it, making very good points and hoping that authors will wake up and start behaving. If you haven’t already, visit those links and read what they are saying. I’m not very optimistic about it, but I’ll do whatever I can to support their efforts.

And that brings us to the other thing that made me sad these days. 2 days ago, the CSS WG published its Minutes (sorta like a meeting) and I was surprised to hear that I’ve been mentioned. My surprise quickly turned into this painful feeling in your stomach when you’re being unfairly accused:

tantek: Opposite is happening right now. Web standards activists are teaching
 people to use -webkit-
tantek: People like Lea Verou.
tantek: Their demos are filled with -webkit-. You will see presentations
 from all the web standards advocates advocating people to use
 -webkit- prefixes.

Try to picture being blamed of the very thing you hate, and you might understand how that felt. I’ve always been an advocate of inclusive CSS coding that doesn’t shut down other browsers. It’s good for future-proofing, it’s good for competition and it’s the right thing to do. Heck, I even made a popular script to help people adding all prefixes! I’m even one of the few people in the industry who has never expressed a definite browser preference. I love and hate every browser equally, as I can see assets and defects in all of them (ok, except Safari. Safari must die :P).

When Tantek realized he had falsely accused me of this, he corrected himself in the #css IRC room on w3.org:

[17:27] <tantek> (ASIDE: regarding using -webkit- prefix, clarification re: Lea Verou - she's advocated using *both* vendor prefixed properties (multiple vendors) and the unprefixed version after them. See her talk http://www.slideshare.net/LeaVerou/css3-a-practical-introduction-ft2010-talk from Front-Trends 2010 for example. An actual example of -webkit- *only* prefix examples (thus implied advocacy) is Google's http://slides.html5rocks.com/ , e.g.
[17:27] <tantek> http://slides.html5rocks.com/#css-columns has three -webkit- property declarations starting with -webkit-column-count )

That’s nice of him, and it does help. At least I had a link to give to people who kept asking me on twitter if I was really the prefix monster he made me out to be. 😛 The problem is that not many read the IRC logs, but many more read the www-style archives. Especially since, with all this buzz, many people were directed into reading this discussion by the above articles. I don’t know how many people will be misled by Tantek’s uninformed comment without reading his correction, but I know for sure that the number is non-zero. And the worst of all is that many of them are people in the CSSWG or in the W3C in general,  people who I have great respect and admiration for. And quite frankly, that sucks.

I don’t think Tantek had bad intentions. I’ve met him multiple times and I know he’s a nice guy. Maybe he was being lazy by making comments he didn’t check, but that’s about it. It could happen to many people. My main frustration is that it feels there is nothing I can do about it, besides answering people when they take the time to talk to me about it. I can do nothing with the ones that won’t, and that’s the majority. At least, if a forum was used over a mailing list, this could’ve been edited or something.

Moving an element along a circle

It all started a few months ago, when Chris Coyier casually asked me how would I move an element along a circle, without of course rotating the element itself. If I recall correctly, his solution was to use multiple keyframes, for various points on a circle’s circumference, approximating it. I couldn’t think of anything better at the time, but the question was stuck in the back of my head.
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Simpler CSS typing animation, with the ch unit

A while ago, I posted about how to use steps() as an easing function to create a typing animation that degrades gracefully.

Today I decided to simplify it a bit and make it more flexible, at the cost of browser support. The new version fully works in Firefox 1+ and IE10, since Opera and WebKit don’t support the ch unit and even though IE9 supports it, it doesn’t support CSS animations.
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Exactly how much CSS3 does your browser support?

This project started as an attempt to improve dabblet and to generate data for the book chapter I’m writing for Smashing Book #3. I wanted to create a very simple/basic testsuite for CSS3 stuff so that you could hover on a e.g. CSS3 property and you got a nice browser support popup. While I didn’t achieve that (turns out BrowserScope doesn’t do that kind of thing), I still think it’s interesting as a spin-off project, especially since the results will probably surprise you.

How it works

css3test (very superficially) tests pretty much everything in the specs mentioned on the sidebar (not just the popular widely implemented stuff). You can click on every feature to expand it and see the exact the testcases run and whether they passed. It only checks what syntax the browser recognizes, which doesn’t necessarily mean it will work correctly when used. WebKit is especially notorious for cheating in tests like this, recognizing stuff it doesn’t understand, like the values “round” and “space” for background-repeat, but the cheating isn’t big enough to seriously compromise the test.

Whether a feature is supported with a prefix or not doesn’t matter for the result. If it’s supported without a prefix, it will test that one. If it’s supported only with a prefix, it will test the prefixed one. For properties especially, if an unprefixed one is supported, it will be used in all the tests.

Only stuff that’s in a W3C specification is tested. So, please don’t ask or send pull requests for proprietary things like -webkit-gradient() or -webkit-background-clip: text; or -webkit-box-reflect and so on.

Every feature contributes the same to the end score, as well as to the score of the individual spec, regardless of the number of tests it has.

Crazy shit

Chrome may display slightly different scores (1% difference) across pageloads. It seems that for some reason, it fails the tests for border-image completely on some pageloads, which doesn’t make any sense. Whoever wants to investigate, I’d be grateful.
Edit: Fixed (someone found and submitted an even crazier workaround.).

Browserscope

This is the first project of mine in which I’ve used browserscope. This means that your results will be sent over to its servers and aggreggated. When I have enough data, I’m gonna built a nice table for everyone to see 🙂 In the meantime, check the results page.

It doesn’t work on my browser, U SUCK!

The test won’t work on dinosaur browsers like IE8, but who cares measuring their CSS3 support anyway? “For a laugh” isn’t a good enough answer to warrant the time needed.

If you find a bug, please remember you didn’t pay a dime for this before nagging. Politely report it on Github, or even better, fix it and send a pull request.

Why did you build it?

To motivate browsers to support the less hyped stuff, because I’m tired of seeing the same things being evangelized over and over. There’s much more to CSS3.

Current results

At the time of this writing, these are the results for the major modern browsers:

  • Chrome Canary, WebKit nightlies, Firefox Nightly: 64%
  • Chrome, IE10PP4: 63%
  • Firefox 10: 61%
  • Safari 5.1, iOS5 Safari: 60%
  • Opera 11.60: 56%
  • Firefox 9: 58%
  • Firefox 6-8: 57%
  • Firefox 5, Opera 11.1 – 11.5: 55%
  • Safari 5.0: 54%
  • Firefox 4: 49%
  • Safari 4: 47%
  • Opera 10: 45%
  • Firefox 3.6: 44%
  • IE9: 39%

Enjoy! css3test.com Fork css3test on Github Browserscope results