Palatino Consulting, One Year In

While I’ve been consulting independently for slightly more than a year, I’ve been doing so under the Palatino Consulting banner for exactly one year, this week.

It’s been going pretty well, thanks for asking.

I’m at the point now where I’m starting to think about whether or not I want to expand this business to include more than just me. The opportunity is there (and has been since day one, to be honest), I’m just not sure if that’s the way I want to go. I like my simple life right now, but I do miss having a team to work with so I’m tempted to start to expand. Maybe, like the founding of the business itself, I’ll be forced into a decision one way or another by some circumstance. At least in this case it will be positive (some opportunity I can’t pass up) rather than negative (getting laid off.)

The one downside to the success is that I’ve had a hard time finding time to write . Which is fine on a lot of levels as I like what I’m doing and working for myself makes even the longest week a lot more satisfying. This is especially true because, unlike many people putting in 60 hour weeks, I get paid for every minute of my time.

Fireworks by Flickr user maf04

Still, I’d like to share more here as a lot of what I talk about in the book is still going strong, but I’ve found it hard to get into the flow of writing again after 3 or so years writing books back-to-back. We’ll see how it goes. I may try to take some baby steps with short pieces and see if the habit sticks.

If not, remember- I’ve still got the web’s back.

Google Chrome Reverses Course- Will Implement Pointer Events

This is great news. One of the worst chapters from a standards perspective in The Uncertain Web was on user input. At the time I wrote the chapter, I had a relatively positive tone. The flow of the chapter led to a discussion of Pointer Events and how, with support in IE and intended implementation in both Firefox and Chrome, we were on the cusp of having a sane way to deal with user input across devices and form factors.

Then it all went to hell.

Here’s what I wrote in the book:

As you’ve read in the chapter on user input, the Pointer Events specification, proposed by Microsoft, favored by Firefox and adopted by the W3C, is up in the air because Chrome isn’t sure whether or not they are going to support it. This was announced after I finished the chapter on user input. I found out via Twitter that Chrome was going to pull planned support for Pointer Events and felt about as deflated as I’ve ever felt about a web standards topic. For one thing, I like Pointer Events. I’m not sharing them as the way of the future just to be hip and share the new stuff. I really like them. Secondly, Google’s proposed alternative, “incrementally extending our existing input APIs” doesn’t really offer much of a salve to the wound of two wasted years looking for this specification to get off the ground and into browsers.

Maybe, like the door on +picture+ being reopened and bursting through to get into the specification, the already specified Pointer Events’ work will come back from the dead and make it into Chrome and the rest of modern browsers. The Chrome team are listening to feedback, so hopefully that’s just what’s going to happen.

We shall see.

Here’s what I wrote when Chrome announced the changed status of the original intent to implement:

I’ve already had to rewrite a book chapter on input on the web because of Chrome dropping support for Pointer Events (you were the good guys- along with IE you form an 800lb gorilla) to be a lot more bleak (now Chrome is the bad guys and we don’t have any solution on the horizon.) Nothing would please me more than to revert to the original take on that chapter.

I also don’t want to pin my hopes on this issue getting sorted out on the vague promise of “extensions” to the existing screwed up mess. What guarantee do we have that Apple will be any more interested in “extensions.” Will Chrome’s BFFs on the IE team be interested in “extensions?” If we’re looking at incremental extensions as the solution (with no more details than that,) I will be retired, drinking coffee at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè and struggling my way through La Gazzetta dello Sport before the issue of user input on the modern web is sorted out in a way that benefits developers and end users. Smart people are doing stupid things with this stuff because it’s a complicated issue. Browser vendors and the W3C have to lead on this and sort it out from up on high because the bottom up approach isn’t working right now.

Thankfully, the Chrome team listened to reason (and a flood of negative feedback for their decision) and have reversed course.

Now we just need to get the new jQuery-driven version of the Pointer Events polyfill project ready for prime time and we’ll be all set.

As an aside, if there’s one good thing that came out of Chrome’s decision is that they Polymer team deprecated the Pointer Events Polyfill and passed the codebase over to jQuery. The Polymer version of the polyfill had a high barrier to entry to even get to use. I just linked to a version in my own code repo for the book because I hated the idea of forcing people to go through a multiple-dependency, poorly documented rigmarole just to “install” the polyfill. The jQuery team will, eventually, have a handy download link right on the site- like a normal project.

Navigating the Uncertain Web

The current talk I’m giving distills the second chapter of The Uncertain Web into 45 or so minutes (I’ve got the powerpoint on Github if you’re interested.)

As I continue to discuss topics relating to the book here on the blog, I thought it would be useful to outline the core concepts of that chapter in an even shorter format so that even if you haven’t read the book (and you should really read the book- it’s great) or haven’t had the good fortune to see me speak you have some sense of what I’m talking about as an approach to tame the web’s uncertainty.

Here are the basic ideas.

Don’t Blame the Web for Being the Web
The web is a diverse place that’s getting more diverse every single day.

If you accept the web’s diversity (and maybe even celebrate it) and you find yourself getting angry about one thing (maybe Internet Explorer 8) or another (the stock Android Browser) just take a minute to remind yourself that this is just the way the web is.

Repeat after me: This is just the way the web is.

Since there’s competition in the browser space, there’s always going to be a bad browser. When the current bad browser goes away a new one takes it’s place at the bottom of the pile. You just have to accept that and move on with your life.

Identify and Embrace Your Audience
You would think this second general concept would go without saying, but…. You really need to identify and embrace your audience

Do you know who your audience is? You’d be surprised how many clients I’ve had who couldn’t answer this very well at all.

While you can look at web-scale statistics for browser and operating system market share to get some idea of where things are, the only metrics that truly matter are those for your specific audience.

Test and Pray for the Best
This third general concept used to be much easier. Nowadays we’ve got to test in as many devices as we can and then pray for the best in the ones we don’t have direct experience with.

Once you’ve identified your audience, where they are and what they’re using it’s time to define the technical demographics you’re going to target with testing and active support.

You’re never going to test everything. The days of testing 95% of the web with one PC running IE6 and toggling between two screen resolutions are long gone. Test with as many real devices as you can and have a plan for what broad range of devices and operating systems you’re going to support. “Android” isn’t good enough. “Android 2.3 and up” is better and saying you’re going to dig up a Moto X means you’ve got your full game face on.

Focus on Optimal, Not Absolute Solutions
This concept has been with me for many years. My prime example is the many arguments I’ve had against putting in the extra effort to add rounded corners in older IE.

These days you need to focus on optimal, not absolute solutions.

Your site is not an absolute thing. The best possible site you can have will be the best possible site for everyone that visits it. If that means it’s a high DPI, 25MB monstrosity for a guy on a MacBook air in a coffee shop in Palo Alto or just a logo and an unordered list for someone on a-rented-by-the-minute phone in Lagos, then that’s the way it is.

People are used to sites looking different on different devices so take advantage of it and provide them with the best possible experience for their particular setup.

Embrace Accessibility
This concept is unfortunately something I have to call out, but people don’t focus enough on accessibility for the pure sake of it, so here we are.

On the modern web we need to embrace accessibility.

If your site is accessible you’re guaranteeing that you’ll be able to reach the largest possible audience.

You’re also doing the right thing.

I can’t stress that enough. You should be doing this anyway.

Lose Your Technology Biases
This general concept is one that drives me particularly nuts.

You’ve got to lose your technology biases.

Tech folks generally have great hardware and new, high powered smart phones and tablets. Most other people in the world don’t. Tech folks tend to forget that.

Not everyone has a fast machine. Test on crummy hardware and crummy phones.

Not everyone is on a Mac. In fact, the vast majority of people on the desktop are still running Windows, no matter what it looks like at conferences. Test on Windows and test in IE.

Not everyone is on an iPhone. Don’t design your experiences around iOS.

Embrace Empathy
This concept runs through much of what we’ve already discussed, but I still like to call it out. We need to embrace empathy.

Don’t blind yourself to what your audience actually is by assuming that they are just like you.

They’re not. Your average experience at work, at home or on your phone is almost certainly an optimal view of your site. You’re an expert at using the web. Make sure you look at it, really look at it, in every scenario you can muster. Sure, we’re all guilty of demoing code under the best possible circumstances. That’s natural. The thing is, that demo is the ideal vision of your site run by an expert. The thing you’re actually building, the down and dirty version, is for people with a completely different relationship with technology than yours.

Try to get in their shoes instead of assuming everyone else is in yours.

Lose Your Stack Biases
This is a new pet peeve that has cropped up over the past couple of years.

Lose your stack biases.

Your users don’t care if your stack is clever. What they care about is the speed, usability, look and feel, interactivity and features of your site. If your stack isn’t adding to one of those then you might be going down the road to stack obsession.

This is the foundation of what I’m talking about these days. This is all covered in much greater detail in the book and in my talks, but the overall gist is here. Now that I’ve gotten this out of the way I’ll get back to diving into the continuing evolution of the web and what we can do about it to make it the best web it can be.

The Uncertain Web: Pointer Event Polyfill and Chrome Fragmentation

Fat Stacks

The Uncertain Web might be out, but that doesn’t mean that I’m done talking about the current state of the open web platform. I’m going to get back to writing a little bit here (as there are no more books on the immediate horizon) and as part of that I’m going to cover some topics that relate to the book under this “the Uncertain Web” headline. Two such topics have bubbled to the surface in recent weeks.

Chrome Fragmentation

Peter Paul-Koch wrote about the ongoing fragmentation of Chrome (specifically Chromium based browsers) last week. He’s identified 11 separate versions on mobile and he details his findings in his post “Chrome continues to fall apart at brisk pace.

There are a lot of things about this that tie into what I’m talking about in the book.

For starters, you might assume that if you test in Chrome on a single Android device or, even worse, test in Chrome on the desktop with just the emulation feature of the Developer Tools you’re fine since it’s all “just Chrome.” That’s clearly not the case. This is exactly what I’m talking about when I urge you to “question your assumptions.”

Secondly, the importance of testing with real devices can’t be understated. I outlined a luxury testing strategy in the book that targeted a half dozen separate Android versions. As PPK’s article illustrates even that is not enough to get the full picture. Still, even falling short of a perfect testing plan, getting a variety of different devices running different Android flavors is important to ensure that you’re really testing your site or application and aren’t merely kicking the tires. Multiply that across iOs, Windows, and whatever else strikes your fancy and you’ll have a robust testing regime for the current state of the web.

Finally, this Chromium soup illustrates the importance of sticking to the tried and true methods of web development that we’ve established over the past decade and a half. Building baseline experiences that work across the broadest range of browsers and devices is going to be the best way to reach the widest possible audience. You shouldn’t have to worry about what browser people are using. 11 versions of Chrome shouldn’t keep you up at night. As long as you’re paying attention to features, using feature detection and device characteristics using media queries you’re going to be better off than if you’re sitting around fixating on the different versions and trying to piece together the differences into some bizarre matrix of pain.

I know there are a lot of people out there that have started to put together sites that only work in Chrome (including knuckleheads from Google that really ought to know better and should be setting a better example for the rest of the web.) That’s a terrible idea to begin with as there are hundreds of millions of people on other browsers out there. Then you factor in this inability to define what “Chrome” even is, and it’s clear that this new-fangled “this site is best viewed in Chrome” trend is even worse than the old-school “this site is best viewed in Internet Explorer” trend. At least back then it was a monoculture with just a handful of variations of IE in the wild and the browser’s penetration was nearly 90%.

Put some PEP in your Step

Since it’s an important aspect of modern web development that remains confusing for many developers, I wrote a whole chapter in the book on dealing with user input on the web. The importance of properly handling user input on the web should be obvious. If you can’t handle clicks of the mouse and taps of the finger on a screen, you’re not going to get very far as a web developer. It’s a complicated mess and plenty of smart people screw it up.

Check out Patrick H. Lauke’s Getting touchy presentation for the best possible overview (that doesn’t involve me re-writing a whole book chapter here.)

The tone of the chapter in The Uncertain Web was initially a hopeful one. There’a technology out there, Pointer Events, created by Microsoft and adopted by the W3C that unifies user input (mouse, finger, stylus, whatever) into a single API. When I initially wrote the chapter, there was support in Internet Explorer (obviously,) intent to implement from Firefox and an open issue to do the same (behind a flag) in Chromium. If all three had fallen into line then there would have been some possibility of forcing Safari’s hand and getting them, too, to implement this simplified interface. That was my hope at least and my tone (originally) reflected that.

Them, during the technical review for the book, the Chromium issue was closed. The Chrome team had decided against implementing Pointer Events in favor of unspecified “enhancements” to the existing Touch APIs So, I had to rewrite the chapter and cast Chrome as the villain in this particular tale. It was a bummer. Especially as, at the same time, the Polymer team deprecated support for their Pointer Events Polyfill. Suddenly we were down one browser and had no supported, high quality polyfill for the technology.

That’s the way the book went out the door. User input on the web was still a mess and Google was the villain.

Then, as the book was finally making its way onto the shelves it was announced that the jQuery foundation was taking over maintenance of the Pointer Events Polyfill. At least in my house, there was much rejoicing.

It’s still early days in the transition, but the project is already active on Github. I’m watching the project. You should too.

Pointer Events are, whatever Google thinks, a better solution to handling user input on the web. Beyond it being easier to code, and it is, it also does away with the conceptual problem many people have with this corner of web development. Despite serious effort from a lot of people, developers still think of it as a binary “touch” or “mouse” choice. It’s not.

If people start to think about “pointers” as a unified interface maybe people will stop doing things like the following example I’ve pulled from Wired.

If you visit with a touch enabled laptop, mouse clicks simply don’t work. To activate many interactive elements you have to touch the screen. It’s super annoying.

Here’s why it happens.

Looking at their code, they’re using a ternary operator to create an event alias named touchity, by using crude test to set the event name as touchstart on browsers with touch capability and click on everything else:

var touchity = ( ('ontouchstart' in window) ||  (window.DocumentTouch  && document instanceof DocumentTouch) ) ? 'touchstart' : 'click'; 

So, later on, when events are bound and touchity is passed into jQuery’s $.on, under the hood, only touchstart or click is set:

$('.wp35-gallery .nav').add('.curtain').on(touchity, function(e) 
  if (isThisADoubleTap()) {
  if ($(this).hasClass('next') 
      || ( === 'curtain-right')) {
  } else {

This breaks on any device with a mouse and a touch screen. For a personal example, with my current set-up I’ve got a touch enabled laptop set up as a workstation 90% of the time. The laptop itself has a touch screen. The external monitor does not. When I visit wired, I get the “touchstart” events even though the screen I’m using isn’t touch enabled. This means the browser being touch-enabled is true on one screen, but not the other, no matter what the browser API reports to their crude test.

To activate a slideshow or other link on I need to drag the window from the external monitor to my laptop, reach up and touch the screen.


Pointer Events helps to make fundamental conceptual errors like that go away because you never think about whether it’s touch or mouse or stylus or three dimensional gesture or eye tracking or thought control or whatever. You just have a pointer.

So, follow the project, use the polyfill and then we can all bug Google to get back on the side of the angels.

A Long Journey Reaches a Happy Conclusion: The Uncertain Web is Out In All Formats


It’s true. After a two year odyssey, The Uncertain Web is finally out in every format that matters. The book has actually been out for a little over a month in multiple ebook formats from O’Reilly and Amazon; but owing to a slight production hiccup it hasn’t regularly been available in print until now (technically this Friday, but Amazon is on the case.) The book is in full color (and looks great) so I wanted to wait until you had the option to get your hands on the print edition before I really started to spread the news.

That time has come. I’m spreading some news…

I’m really happy with the finished product. One of the reasons I’m proud of it is that it’s the first book I’ve written that I could really recommend to my peers– my jQuery book was a hybrid effort with another writer aimed at intermediate developers and Beginning HTML and CSS is book for beginners. The Uncertain Web, on the other hand, works for everyone from a project manager or designer (who could read the first two and final chapters with ease) all the way up to the most technical front end engineer who might be surprised by some of the things that I kick around in my precious 224 pages. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I say in those pages, but there’s definitely something that will make you stop and think about the way you approach the web, no matter who you are.

Here’s how O’Reilly describes the book:

What’s the best way to develop for a Web gone wild? That’s easy. Simply scrap the rules you’ve relied on all these years and embrace uncertainty as a core tenet of design. In this practical book, veteran developer Rob Larsen outlines the principles of what he calls The Uncertain Web, and shows you techniques necessary to successfully make the transition.

By combining web standards, progressive enhancement, an iterative approach to design and development, and a desire to question the status quo, your team can create sites and applications that will perform well in a wide range of present and future devices. This guide points the way.

Topics include:

  • Navigating thousands of browser/device/OS combinations
  • Focusing on optimal, not absolute solutions
  • Feature detection, Modernizr, and polyfills
  • RWD, mobile first, and progressive enhancement
  • UIs that work with multiple user input modes
  • Image optimization, SVG, and server-side options
  • The horribly complex world of web video
  • The Web we want to see in the future

The book is also solely my idea. Which isn’t the case with any of my other books. Typically publishers have a book they want written andthey search for an author. This time I had some ideas I wanted to share and O’Reilly stepped up to let me share them (thanks to Simon St. Laurent.) That, in particular has been rewarding for me.

Have I mentioned I have a back cover blurb? I do. It’s provided by Jeremy Keith and it makes me smile.

“A refreshingly honest look at the chaotic, wonderful world of web development, with handy, practical advice for making future-friendly, backward-compatible websites.”

I also like this tweeted comparison:

All in all I’m a happy dude.