Tag: Reading

To the brain, reading computer code is not the same as reading language

One of the things I do when teaching beginning front-end development is ask students to describe what it’s like to read HTML. I give them pretty basic markup for a long-form article, and ask them to read it twice: first in the code, then on the front end.

The #1 common response I hear? It’s like learning a new language.

Of course it is, I tell them. It’s in the name: Hypertext Markup Language. So, I advise them to start treating the materials in the course like they’re learning French, Spanish, or any other language.

Then I wake up this morning and see this MIT study that reading computer code is not the same as reading language, even though they share similarities.

In spite of those similarities, MIT neuroscientists have found that reading computer code does not activate the regions of the brain that are involved in language processing. Instead, it activates a distributed network called the multiple demand network, which is also recruited for complex cognitive tasks such as solving math problems or crossword puzzles.

Duh, you might say. But wait, reading code actually appears to activate additional parts of the multiple demand network that make the task more or a near-match to mathematical reasoning than the exact same thing.

The MIT team found that reading computer code appears to activate both the left and right sides of the multiple demand network […]. This finding goes against the hypothesis that math and coding rely on the same brain mechanisms.

So, back to my HTML reading assignment. Is it better to teach code as a language for recognizing symbols that communicate to the browser what to do, or as a math skill that’s based on solving problems?

The answer is 🤷‍♂️.

The most interesting thing about the study to me is not how to teach code, but rather how how I work with it. Chris always says a front-end developer is aware, and the fact that reading code taps on a region of the brain that’s responsible for handling multi-tasking and holding lots of information only supports that. It also explains why I personally get annoyed when I’m pulled away from my code or distracted from it—it’s like my brain has to drop all the plates it was balancing to pay attention to something else, then pick up and reassemble all the pieces before I can jump back in to what I was doing.

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What We’re Reading, 2019

There are so, so, so (so) many things to read out there on the internet. So many, in fact, that it’s difficult to keep up with everything.

But, hey, we’ve got your back! It’s our job to surface the best of the best and share it with you right here. That’s why it’s a good idea to subscribe to this site and newsletter. Why subscribe to hundreds of sites when you can follow one, right?

Where do we find the links that we share? It truly runs the gamut, but we’ve decided to list our favorite sources.

Chris Coyier

  • Labnotes – Assaf Arkin’s newsletter is great mishmash of timely, interesting, and funny tidbits with a developer twist.
  • Code with Veni is new just this year and consistently has great links from underrepresented coders
  • Codrops Collective always leaves me with like five open tabs
  • I get quite a few weekly newsletters entirely about front-end development, like Friday Frontend
  • WordPress Tavern does solid WordPress journalism.
  • Shoutout to Dave who had a strong year of bloggin’.
  • I love longtime classic blogs, like Waxy Waxy, Kottke, and Daring Fireball
  • DEV is blowing up and I end up reading many articles there each week. Meanwhile, it feels like Medium is slowing down significantly when it comes to developer-focused writing.
  • I obviously look at CodePen every day, which helps me keep an eye on what front-end developers are playing with.
  • I’d say the main value I get from Twitter is getting great links and thoughts that are a smidge beyond my regular reading. I’m in some community Slacks too, but find it far more conversational and less link-heavy.

Sarah Drasner

  • Scotch.io consistently has great stuff for pretty much every tech stack you can think of. They also do a great job of finding new authors.
  • Cassidy William’s newsletter is short and sweet, and has coding puzzles in every issue.
  • I really love PonyFoo’s quality and style. They mix it up and keep it interesting. The design is nice and unique as well!
  • I’m a Vue core team member and love to keep on top of what’s going on in the community with the Vue Newsletter. It’s curated by a team of really passionate educators and it shows — every newsletter is well curated.
  • I love Data Sketches so very much. It’s a brilliant collaboration between Shirley Wu and Nadieh Bremer, and shows exceptional mastery of technical and illustrative skillsets to convey data. Worth a read for sure.
  • Like Chris, I love Codrops Collective. You can learn so much about UX animation there.
  • Speaking of animation, Val Head has a wonderful UI Animation Newsletter. She’s kept it up for years, and it’s rich with resources from the fanciful to the practical.
  • Rachel Andrew has been the editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine for the past year or so, and the content has been wonderful. Smashing is constantly a source of great articles and information about front-end development and design.
  • I just saw Jared Palmer’s Blog a week ago and I really enjoy the writing there. It’s informative, interesting and humorous.
  • Our own Robin Rendle has a great newsletter all about typography. I don’t know that much about type, so the poetic deep dives are lovely and informative. It’s great for die-hard fans and newbies alike!

Geoff Graham

  • W3C Cascading Style Sheets Feed – Getting news straight from the horse’s mouth!
  • CSS {In Real Life} – Michelle Barker is has a pragmatic approach to CSS and does an excellent job explaining complex concepts in a way that’s pretty easy to grok.
  • The History of the Web – This is probably the opposite of “late-breaking” news, but Jay Hoffman’s newsletter tells yesteryear’s stories of the web, which is great context for things we see evolving today.
  • CodePen Post Picks – CodePen is full of great minds sharing ideas and the team over there does an excellent job curating noteworthy posts.
  • RWD Weekly Newsletter – Justin Avery covers responsive design news (obviously) but also provides oodles of other front-end-related goodies.
  • The Work Behind the Work – This isn’t front-end stuff but I like how this site documents the creative process behind famous works that we know and love.
  • Adactio – Jeremy Keith posts regularly and thoughtfully.
  • Bruce Lawson – He usually has a weekly link dump that I find useful for uncovering things that would otherwise slip under my radar.
  • Mozilla Hacks – I could just as easily link up to other browser news, but Mozilla seems to be innovating fast and I like seeing where they’re headed.
  • Piccalilly Newsletter – Andy Bell collects awesome demos.

Robin Rendle

  • Ire Aredinokun’s blog Bits of Code is an endless treasure trove of information about front-end development best practices and each post makes me ooo and Alice with delight.
  • For type and design news I always keep an eye out for Typographica’s year in review, and this year’s edition is just as interesting as the others. They collect a ton of typeface reviews from the releases of the past 12 months and explore what makes each design tick.
  • Likewise, David Jonathan Ross’s Font of the Month Club is essential reading for designers. David gives provides a typeface that’s a work in progress in each issue and then writes diligently about the process behind it. It’s always a wonder.
  • Tim Kadlec’s blog is a great source of info about accessibility, web performance and general front-end development news.
  • I’ve been reading a bunch of great newsletters lately and Chip Scanlan’s writing advice is one that certainly stands out from the crowd.
  • Adrian Roselli’s blog never fails to impress with a ton of deep-dives into some obscure front-end problem or issue I’ve never heard about before.

Where do you look to stay updated? Share your list of favorites with us!

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Currently Reading: Progressive Web Apps by Jason Grisby

I’ve been reading Jason Grigsby’s new book on progressive web apps this past week and it’s exciting. Jason explains what PWAs are and how they work while while doing a bang-up job covering the business case for using them them, too. But perhaps you might be thinking that a PWA isn’t necessary for the project you’re working on right now. Well, Jason argues that progressive web apps are for everybody:

Should your website be a progressive web app? The answer is almost certainly yes. Even if you don’t think of your website as an “app,” the core features of progressive web apps can benefit any website. Who wouldn’t profit from a fast, secure, and reliable website?

One of the challenges I’ve experienced when thinking about how to apply a progressive web app to a project I’m working on is figuring out what content to cache. Should the homepage be cached? Do we make a custom offline page? What is useful information to provide a user in that context?

Jason goes there, too, and even describes how he tackles that for his own projects:

For cloudfour.com, we chose to only cache recently viewed pages because the main reason people come to our site is to read the articles. If we tried to anticipate which articles someone would want offline access to, we’d likely guess incorrectly. If we precached top-level pages, we might force people on a metered network connection to download content they would never look at…

That makes a ton of sense to me and I realize that the offline cache should probably be different depending on the situation and the website. For example, maybe a design agency website could replace the big flashy homepage with an offline page that only shows the phone number of the agency instead. Or perhaps a restaurant website could cache the food menu and make that experience offline, but remove all the images to make sure it’s not too impactful for folks on those metered networks.

Anyway, I think that Jason’s book is wonderful as it reveals to us all this complexity and a whole new set of opportunities to improve the design and experience of our websites, which, by the way, is something we should strive for in this new and exciting age of web app development.

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