Category Archives: CSS

SydCSS Wheel of Talks

Last December the SydCSS meetup had its first game show-themed “Wheel of Talks” evening. Three presenters each had to deliver a talk of 5-10 minutes on a topic related to CSS. The catch was that they didn’t know what their topics were until the start of the evening, at which point they had 20-ish minutes to prepare. The talks were randomly selected from the eponymous on-screen Wheel of Talks, built in CSS and JS.

This is the story of how the event was planned, and how I built the wheel.

I can’t hide from my mind

The best ideas arrive when you’re meant to be thinking about something else. The late, great Terry Pratchett imagined them as “inspiration particles” that, like muons and neutrinos, sleet through space until they strike the brain of an unsuspecting creature. I just call them brain farts.

This particular idea struck one morning as I was getting ready for work. I imagined a 3D, poker machine-esque, CSS-powered spinning wheel. Specifically, I imagined two of them — one to randomly choose a presenter, one to randomly choose their topic. I knew SydCSS was looking for new ideas to mix up their evenings, and this would be the perfect fit. I called it “presentation roulette”.

I whipped up a basic prototype on the train ride in to work that morning to make sure the concept worked. I showed it to David (one of the SydCSS organisers) and explained the idea. The next day I got a message from Fiona (the other organiser) saying that she loved the plan. A day later she said that someone else was already on board to do one of the impromptu talks, and that I should do one too.

And thus, a monster was born.

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Should I continue

Or, shouldicontinuecanianimate.

This is an open question to the front-end development community. I have a website and want to make it better. But I need to know if it’s actually valuable before putting in more work.

Back to…

A couple of years ago, as part of a building some animation prototypes, I ended up creating a small library that collates which CSS properties can be animated, and how they animate. At the suggestion of Sean Curtis, I turned that data into a site called It’s inspired by but only for CSS animations and transitions.

I launched a basic version of the site and had grander plans for it. Ultimately I wanted to add a bunch of interactive graphs that showed better details of how different types of properties were interpolated and transitioned.

But a little while after that, I attended a conference where the theme of several talks was performant animations. All the advice was to animate only the opacity and transform properties, which matched the trend of advice coming from the wider dev community — especially those working for browser vendors.

While it was definitely good advice (and still is today), it effectively took the wind out of my sails. What was the point of putting more effort into explaining the minutiae of all the different properties’ animation rules, when the general advice is to only use two of them?

…the Future

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From little things big things grow

It’s nearly the end of 2014 — time for a little bit of (perhaps clichéd) reflection on the year that was. Sometimes you look back on a sequence of events in your life and can trace them back to a single catalyst. This particular story starts with a tweet:

This strikes a chord with ideas I’d been vaguely mulling over, and a quick conversation ensues:

And so begins an unexpected journey.

Little things

I put together a talk proposal for CSSConfAU about better browser devtools, especially support for CSS3 features such as transforms and animations. I didn’t expect it to be accepted, having fully admitted it was ideas and prototypes, not finished features. I also submitted a talk proposal for JSConfAU, just to hedge my bets.

I started a little bit of work on a single prototype devtools extension, but didn’t take it very far. Then I got notified that my proposal was into the second round of proposals. Although I don’t like it, I’m fully aware that I’m at my most prolific and productive when there’s a looming deadline involved. I had one month to complete something that could be presented. PANIC!

A couple of weeks later I was notified on consecutive days that I wouldn’t be presenting at CSSConfAU, but I would be presenting at JSConfAU. Now it was panic of a different kind as I switched contexts completely and worked on a presentation in Keynote. The end result of JSConfAU is a story for another post, but I find it interesting how neatly my GitHub activity log sums up the preparation work.


Scratch an itch

After the dust had settled from JSConfAU and I’d taken a short break from doing anything related to coding (as shown in the picture above), I felt like continuing what I’d started with the devtools prototypes. A bit of playing around with ideas led to not much output, so a switch in tactics was called for.

It has been scientifically studied that writing or talking about an idea stimulates different neurons in the brain. This creates connections and reaches conclusions that might not have been reached had you just stuck with abstract thinking. (This is also why ”Rubber duck debugging” works so often.)

Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew there was something I found not quite right about how browser devtools worked, but I couldn’t pick exactly what it was. So I wrote words, not code. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and while writing I hit the proverbial nail on the head. A bigger theory had been found.

In the end I kept the Dr. Seuss analogy* because it worked so well. *Incidentally, after enquiring with the legal team at Random House, I now know the attribution required when writing a blog post that quotes a Dr. Seuss book. Chalk up another item on the list of “Things I unexpectedly learned by being a web developer.” I worked on it, cleaned it up, edited some more and was finally happy with it.

Time to go back to coding, but this time I had a vision and something to aim for. Thanks to writing a draft blog, I had rich descriptions of what the ideas should look like, so all that was left was to build things as quickly as possible. After that came the almost endless preparation of screenshots, YouTube videos and animated GIFs, as well as creating a heap of feature requests for Chrome and Firefox, but finally I was ready to publish and promote.

Big things

Putting a heap of effort into something like The Sneetches and other DevTools wasn’t worth it if if never reached the people actually responsible for building browser devtools. Over the course of a few days I sent the link to a few key people on Twitter, who worked on either Chrome or Firefox devtools in some capacity.

The response was better than I’d hoped for.

I’ve had brief conversations online with various people involved in Chrome and Firefox devtools and got a bit of traction on some feature requests.

Just recently, I was invited to Google Sydney’s office to get a preview of what’s planned for animation support in Chrome’s devtools, and give feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Soon I’ll be meeting someone working on WebKit devtools to discuss ideas in a similar manner.

Regardless of how accurate it may be, I feel like I’ve had at least a small impact on the future of browser devtools, which is pretty damn surprising. If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be in this situation today, frankly I’d have wondered how I’d become trapped in such a trite cliché of retrospective story telling, but I’d be amazed nonetheless.

And it all started with a random Twitter conversation. Thanks, Ben! By coincidence, the Call for Proposals for the next CSSConfAU has just opened up this week…

So here’s to 2015. I have absolutely no clue where it’s going to take me, I’m just going to continue to make it up as I go along and see what happens.


No blog post with this title from an Australian could possibly be complete without including the following song. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s required by an Australian law somewhere. Honest.

Potential browser devtools support for responsive images

Just a quick one as I’m still in the developer tools headspace after The Sneetches and other DevTools.

On the weekend I saw that support for responsive images – via the <picture> element – landed in Chrome 38. Naturally I tried out the test page listed in the article to see how it was put together.

After a short time inspecting the page, I realised that while the Chrome browser has support for <picture>, the Chrome DevTools don’t. When inspecting a <picture> element I found myself completely unable to tell which image was actually showing at any one time.

Obviously this feature is still in its infancy and I’m sure the developer tools will catch up soon. In the meantime, though, I’m going to present my completely-not-asked-for suggestions for Chrome DevTools support of <picture>.

Suggestion #1: Fade out non-matching sources

Within a <picture> element there are multiple sources of images for the browser to choose from. These are provided by <source> elements with an <img> element as the final fallback image (to ensure compatibility with browsers that don’t support <picture>).

The current DevTools display of a <picture> element

My suggestion is to use the technique seen in the Styles panel and fade out any sources that are not being shown, only highlighting the currently-visible source.

DevTools with non-active image sources faded out

In fact, a <source> element can define multiple images in its srcset parameter to support multiple resolutions. This technique could be extended to the srcset parameter as well, to show which specific part of the srcset is currently applied.

DevTools with non-active image sources faded out in the srcset attribute

Of course, the <img> element is the one actually doing the display of the chosen source, so it’s debateable whether it should be faded out. Either way, I’m just playing with ideas here.

Suggestion #2: Hover previews for srcset

<img> elements show a preview of the image when you hover over the src attribute.

Hovering over an image source in DevTools shows a preview

This should also be extended to the srcset parameter of a <source> element, even if they list multiple sources.

Hovering over an srcset attribute in DevTools shows a preview

Suggestion #3: Explicitly indicate the currently visible image source

I don’t know if “computed attributes” (my made-up term) are likely to become a thing in devtools, but here is an attempt anyway. The basic idea is to show an attribute on the <img> element that indicates the current source image, as a representation of the currentSrc property.

DevTools with an image's current source shown as a computed attribute

(Clearly it’s not a perfect visual design, but it gets the point across.)


I don’t have one, other than saying that using devtools to alter devtools is a surprising amount of fun, and that this mini project was a wonderful distraction from whatever it was I was meant to be doing in my spare time.

CSS degrees – when standards aren’t standard

While reading through an article about CSS3 gradients the other day, I noticed that the angular degrees for linear gradients increase in an anti-clockwise direction. This seemed odd because the CSS3 rotation property increases degrees clockwise.

To check that this inconsistency was indeed the case, I made a quick test case:

It looks to me like the two modules of the new specification were developed in complete isolation from each other, which doesn’t give me confidence in the “new saviour” of CSS3 standards. If the makers of the specification can’t be consistent, how can we expect the same of the browser implementations?