OPLIN 4cast #413: Wayfinding cues for the blind

November 26th, 2014

blind symbolThis may not have much to do with library technology — not yet, anyway — but it’s a cool story nonetheless. Libraries have always been involved with efforts to open the world of books to those who have vision impairment, of course, but it seems like new technologies that could be useful are often around for years before someone adapts them for the blind. Wearable technology, like Google Glass, easily could have become another example of new technologies ignoring the visually impaired; but now Microsoft is testing some wearable technology that has the potential to significantly enrich the lives of the blind.

  • Microsoft’s bone-conducting headset guides the blind with audio cues (Endgadget | Mariella Moon)  “Microsoft, for one, is currently testing a new headset (developed with help from UK charity Guide Dogs) that uses 3D soundscape technology to guide its users with audio cues along the way. That bone-conducting headset can’t work alone, though: it needs to be connected to a smartphone, as well as to receive information from Bluetooth and WiFi beacons placed in intervals throughout the roads users take.”
  • Independence Day: A new pilot program sets people with sight loss free to experience cities like never before (Microsoft/Stories | Jennifer Warnick)  “Microsoft designers worked incredibly closely with Guide Dogs — its employees, mobility experts and users like Bottom and Brewell — to genuinely understand the challenges of traveling to and fro with vision loss. The engineers and designers from Microsoft and mobility experts and users from Guide Dogs spent countless hours in the field together. In rain and wind, they patiently tried various half-baked ideas, experimented with different approaches to hardware and software, and gave essential feedback to help shape the technology every step of the way.”
  • Blind Microsoft director offers bold new vision w/ help from father of multi-touch (Daily Tech | Jason Mick)  “After all, dogs can’t tell you where the closest spot to grab a bite to eat is. A smartphone might tell you that. But even they fall short. A local public transit authority might offer vision impaired auditory clues, for example, and/or release a well-integrated smartphone app that tells riders exactly what bus is arriving when. But many city services lack these kind of accessibility efforts. And even those that have them, may be unable to save a vision impaired person from getting on the wrong bus, if the scheduled bus on the route is running late, and a different route is running early.”
  • Microsoft had to blindfold me so I could hear the future (The Verge | Tom Warren)  “The real magic of this system is the 3D audio technology that gives you a real sense of direction. One feature on the headset allows you to push a button and hear a list of nearby places of interest. They’re processed through the headset dependant on the direction you’re facing so that when a store is read aloud you’ll be able to hear the direction of where it’s located. That might be in the rear left or out in front, but the audio gives you a clear sense of where that store is along a route through just sound alone.”

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OPLIN 4cast #412: Old, but not forgotten

November 19th, 2014

quill penA couple of weeks ago, a paper was published on arXiv.org, hosted by the Cornell University Library, regarding a study of how often older scholarly papers that have been digitized and put online are cited in new scholarly papers. The paper (“On the shoulders of giants,” first link below) presents data indicating that citing older papers is becoming more common recently, as more of them are available online. The paper itself cites older studies, including one of OhioLINK database usage, and briefly discusses some library tools for assessing the usefulness of older journals. You could argue that this study supports the value of libraries purchasing databases of journal articles, but you should keep in mind that the authors of the paper work for Google.

  • On the shoulders of giants: The growing impact of older articles [pdf] (arXiv.org | Alex Verstak et al.)  “For most fields, retrospective digitization as well as inclusion in a broad-based search service with relevance ranking occurred in the second half of the period of study. As mentioned earlier, this is also the period that saw a larger growth in the fraction of older citations. Now that finding and reading relevant older articles is about as easy as finding and reading recently published articles, significant advances aren’t getting lost on the shelves and are influencing work worldwide for years after.”
  • Older papers are increasingly remembered—and cited (Science | John Bohannon)  “For a study to mark Google Scholar’s 10th anniversary celebration, its researchers analyzed scientific papers published between 1990 and 2013. They divided the papers into nine broad research areas and 261 subject categories. Then they compared the publication dates of the papers cited in all those papers. (Google Scholar is universally acknowledged to index more scientific documents than anyone else, but as usual, the researchers are keeping the size of their data set secret.)”
  • The extraordinary growing impact of the history of science (Medium | The Physics arXiv Blog)  “There are one or two interesting wrinkles in the data. These trends appeared in 231 out of 261 subject areas. But many of the subject areas that experienced a decline in older citations were part of two broader areas: chemical and materials sciences, and engineering. Consequently, these broad disciplines show almost no increase in old citations.”
  • Digitization is increasing the accessibility of old scientific papers, and of history (SelfAwarePatterns | Mike Smith)  “Will this make history more relevant for everyone? I think it will make history more accessible. But history has always been relevant. I wish I could say it will make people more likely to check history, but I have to admit that I doubt it. Despite the incredible amount of information available at people’s finger tips these days, I can’t say that I’ve noticed that, in general, they are really any more informed than they were before the internet.”

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OPLIN 4cast #411: Better emoji

November 12th, 2014

emojiA few weeks ago, we considered doing a 4cast about emoji. Emoji are not really new, however – we’re just hearing more about them lately – and frankly, some of you guys out there probably know more about them than we do. But last week, the Unicode Consortium, which is working on guidelines for making emoji characters that can be used across a wide variety of platforms, released a new draft of those guidelines that included a section on diversity. Now emoji are becoming a richer “language” that might be used for some serious communication.

  • Unicode wants to fix emoji’s ethnicity problem (ReadWrite | Lauren Orsini)  “The Unicode Consortium notes that emoji were originally intended to have a ‘a more generic (inhuman) appearance, such as a yellow/orange color or a silhouette,’ but Japanese carriers soon set a light skinned precedent, intending the emoji to look like the Japanese people who first used them. Since emoji use has long since spread from Japan to the rest of the world, emoji diversity is overdue.”
  • Proposed changes to emoji standard would allow for more diversity, increased selection of skin tones (TechCrunch | Sarah Perez)  “They weren’t encoded into the Unicode Standard until 2010, but having originally grown out of a smaller geographic region, the ‘generic’ images being used didn’t accurately reflect the diversity found elsewhere in the world. Over time, things have progressed … slowly. Apple updated its emoji collection in 2012 to include a lesbian and homosexual couple, for example. But even then, people wanted to know, where were the black emoji?”
  • Unicode proposes a way to let an emoji black man and white woman hold hands (Ars Technica | Casey Johnston)  “To introduce diversity, the developers propose introducing five color swatch emojis of skin tones that, when combined with an existing person emoji, would render as a single ‘emoji presentation’ with the skin color in question. So for instance, a font could take a boy face plus brown swatch and render a boy with a brown skin tone and darker hair.”
  • Proposed draft Unicode technical report #51: Diversity (Unicode Consortium | Mark Davis and Peter Edberg, eds.)  “There are several emoji for multi-person groups, such as COUPLE WITH HEART. The emoji modifiers affect all the people in such characters. However, real multi-person groupings include many in which various members have different skin tones. For representing such groupings, users can employ techniques already found in current emoji practice, in which a sequence of emoji is intended to be read together as a unit, with each emoji in the sequence contributing some piece of information about the unit as a whole.”

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OPLIN 4cast #410: ConnectED Wi-Fi vendors

November 5th, 2014

ConnectED logoWe’ve blogged about the Federal Communication Commission’s E-Rate reforms in an earlier 4cast, so you may remember that one of the big changes is a push to use more E-Rate money to support the management and operation of Wi-Fi in schools and libraries, including installation, activation, and initial configuration of eligible components. The FCC’s “push” will come in the form of $2 billion of new E-Rate funding over the next two years for Wi-Fi upgrades, which of course has the attention of Wi-Fi vendors. Now we’re starting to see some vendors take an advantage in the rush for the new money, through their involvement with the President’s ConnectED initiative, which prepared the ground in many ways for the FCC’s E-Rate reforms.

  • Apple’s ConnectED program participation brings Macs, iPads and more to underserved schools (TechCrunch | Darrell Etherington)  “Apple’s program will put an iPad in the hand of each student at these [114] schools, give both an iPad and a Mac to every teacher and admin staff, and put an Apple TV in each classroom. It’s truly a full-coverage approach, and it should mean that these schools, at least from a technological perspective, get to stand on more equal footing with some of their better-funded peers.”
  • Apple details how its $100 million pledge to Obama’s ConnectED will help schools (The Verge | Chris Welch)  “Apple wants to see things through with its pledge to ConnectED, and that extends beyond simply passing its products around. The company says each school will be assigned a dedicated Apple Education Team that will help educators integrate the technology in lessons and ensure they can make the most of what they’ve been given.”
  • Apple picks Aerohive for ConnectED program (Network Computing | Lee Badman)  “Aerohive Networks announced today that it’s been selected as the sole WiFi infrastructure provider for ConnectED as part its relationship with Apple, which is expected to be a major provider of devices to the program. Apple plans to provide $100 million in resources to the initiative, including client devices (iPads and AppleTVs) and the Aerohive network switches and APs that will form the new infrastructure for ConnectED schools.”
  • Aerohive Networks teams with Apple to drive Obama’s ConnectED program (CRN | Kristin Bent)  “[Bill] Hoppin [vice president of business development at Aerohive] said all of Aerohive’s ConnectED implementations will be done by its partner and managed service provider, Education Networks of America (ENA). He said in addition to helping deploy Aerohive’s technology, ENA will provide schools with ENA Air, a turnkey managed services offering for wireless infrastructures.”

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OPLIN 4cast #409: Serious GIFs

October 29th, 2014

book animationSometimes new tech ideas that might be of interest to libraries do not happen quickly and make a big splash, but rather slip slowly and quietly into practice. Animated GIFs – short, repetitive animations done in Graphics Interchange Format – came to be known years ago as a defining characteristic of less-than-serious websites and are the technology behind many of those annoying ads that border web pages, so they are not exactly quiet and unobtrusive. But it seems they do have a more serious side that is not as splashy and can possibly be useful to libraries. Is your library using any animated GIFs for online library “how-to” guides or other instructional materials?

  • Animated GIFs: From gimmick to gestalt (University of Alaska Fairbanks eLearning Instructional Design Team blog | Christen Bouffard)  “GIFs are well suited for illustrating sequential processes. Many explanations we may want to share with others do not require all the time involved in shooting a video or creating a screencast. Sometimes these explanations can be most effectively conveyed in just a handful of frames, free of audio narration, excessive bandwidth usage, and extraneous media players.”
  • Using animated GIF images for library instruction (In the Library with the Lead Pipe | Karl Suhr)  “One initial attraction to exploring the use of animated GIFs was as an alternative to video. Given a choice between a video, even a short one, and some other media such as a series of captioned images or simple text, in most cases I will opt for the latter, especially if the subject matter demonstrates or explains how to do something. Some of this is merely personal preference, but I suspected others had the same inclination. In fact, a study by Mestre that compared the effectiveness of video vs. static images used for library tutorials indicated that participants had a disinclination to take the time to view instruction in video form.”
  • How to use GIFs to enhance your visual content marketing strategy (Everypost | Fernando Cuscuela)  “GIFs that function as how-tos, product demos, or instructional guides are a great way to convey a lot of information efficiently, and can be even better than blog articles or long-form social media posts.… What’s more, the GIF version is much more visually appealing, memorable, useful and therefore shareable.”
  • Why aren’t animated gifs used for more practical purposes? (Replicator | Joseph Flaherty)  “So why aren’t these miniature animations used more widely for practical purposes? Do any ecommerce sites use animated gifs to show off the unique features of a product? How about replacing turgid instructional guides with gif-tastic help pages? Animated images are a perfect midpoint between static images and full on video content, but are rarely used for productive purposes, with a few exceptions.”

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OPLIN 4cast #408: Cheap attacks

October 22nd, 2014

Abrams tankAt its latest meeting, the OPLIN Board discussed making a substantial financial commitment to protecting OPLIN participants from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks send so much traffic to a victim’s web server – often a company or organization big enough to have made enemies in the hacker community – that the victim’s Internet connection or web server cannot handle it all, and their website becomes inaccessible to legitimate traffic: a “denial of service.” The “distributed” part of the name refers to the fact that a single computer cannot generate enough traffic to overwhelm most systems, so the traffic comes from an automated collection of computers that have been infected with malware – a “botnet” – that is under the control of a bot master. Botnets are also used for ad fraud, spam, and testing stolen credit cards. OPLIN staff were mystified as to who would go to the trouble and expense of launching a DDoS attack at a library, but then we learned how cheap and easy it is to rent a botnet these days.

  • DDoS in 2014: The new Distributed Denial of Service attacks and how to fight them (Continuum MSP blog| Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols)  “Other DDoS attacks go after your Web servers themselves rather than the Internet connection by devouring server resources. With these, if you even had infinite bandwidth, a site could still be taken down. DDoS Botnets used to be made up almost entirely of malware-infected Windows PCs. Now, even poorly secured mobile devices are getting into the act. The process is not particularly complicated or technical. You can rent a botnet suitable for launching a DDoS attack for a few bucks an hour.”
  • Renting a zombie farm: Botnets and the hacker economy (Symantec Security Insights Blog | Tim G.)  “Similar to Amazon Web Services renting cloud capacity to any number of applications, a bot master will often lease their bot out to subsequently commit other cybercrimes. This means individuals with little or no skill in creating a botnet can rent one capable of crippling a major website with a DDoS attack for as little as $100-200 USD per day.”
  • You don’t have to be an evil hacker genius to bring down PlayStation (Businessweek | Dune Lawrence)  “Incapsula’s chief business officer and a co-founder Marc Gaffan calls DDoS ‘the weapon of choice’ for hackers these days, in part because technology is making it increasingly convenient and powerful (sound familiar?). It doesn’t take much money to inflict a costly headache on a business. An attacker can rent a ‘botnet’—a network of infected zombie computers controlled by cyber criminals—to mount a DDoS campaign for less than $10 an hour, according to Verizon’s most recent Data Breach Investigations Report (PDF).”
  • DDoS attacks can take down your online services (TechPro Essentials | Dr. Bill Highleyman)  “Botnets are readily available for rent on the darknet, private networks where connections are made only between trusted peers. Hackers form a community of trusted peers and can gain access to botnet rentals. The cost for botnets is relatively modest given the damage they can inflict. For instance, the following botnet rentals are advertised on the darknet: 10,000 PCs – 10 gbps – $500 per month; 100,000 PCs – 100 gbps – $200 per day.”

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OPLIN 4cast #407: Jamming hotspots

October 15th, 2014

Wi-Fi hotspotA couple of weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission fined the Marriott hotel chain $600,000, charging that they “…intentionally interfered with and disabled Wi-Fi networks established by consumers in the conference facilities of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee, in violation of Section 333 of the Communications Act.” In plainer English, Marriott was sending signals that disabled the cellular mobile hotspots that people at the conference facility were trying to set up for use by their group, thus getting around paying steep fees charged by Marriott for using their in-house Wi-Fi. (If you’re curious about how steep these fees can be, OPLIN just paid the Greater Columbus Convention Center $10,000 for Wi-Fi access for OLC Convention attendees last week.) While most media reported this story as an example of a hotel getting caught being greedy, the FCC’s action raised ticklish questions for some technicians responsible for maintaining Wi-Fi networks.

  • Marriott fined $600,000 by FCC for blocking guests’ Wi-Fi (CNN | Katia Hetter)  “Marriott issued the following statement Friday afternoon defending its actions: ‘Marriott has a strong interest in ensuring that when our guests use our Wi-Fi service, they will be protected from rogue wireless hot spots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft,’ the statement said. ‘Like many other institutions and companies in a wide variety of industries, including hospitals and universities, the Gaylord Opryland protected its Wi-Fi network by using FCC-authorized equipment provided by well-known, reputable manufacturers.’”
  • Understanding FCC decision regarding Wi-Fi containment at Marriott (Mojo Wireless | Hemant Chaskar)  “In this case, it seems FCC reached the conclusion that rogue containment was used in a manner to disrupt rightful communications of users even though they did not pose security threat to the Marriott network. I think everyone would agree with the FCC position here. Some may bring up the hotel Wi-Fi performance degradation issue due to personal hot spots, but Wi-Fi operates in the public spectrum and does not guarantee performance in the first place.”
  • Prudence in the wake of the FCC’s ruling on Marriott jamming WiFi (IT Connection | Mike Fratto)  “On the other hand, Marriott – and any organization running a WiFi network – has good reason to monitor its airspace in order to provide good service. If you look at the airspace at any public venue, it is a mess of access points overlapping channels and degrading WiFi access for everyone, and there is no way for a venue owner to provide good service in that environment. However, protecting unwitting guests from ‘insidious cyber-attacks and identity theft’ is a specious argument and not one you should make unless you have tangible proof.”
  • FCC-Marriott WiFi blocking fine opens Pandora’s box (Network Computing | Lee Badman)  “Many of us have bought into the fact that WLAN can be as good and secure as Ethernet, and the WLAN industry says we shouldn’t hesitate to include WiFi in our critical infrastructures. But we need the FCC to provide some clarity. Even if it’s not OK to ‘jam’ in whatever form that may take, it ought to be OK to have ‘Thou shalt not use’ policies for our own spaces. The FCC didn’t say that’s acceptable, but it really needs to at this point.”

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OPLIN 4cast #406: Felonious libraries

October 8th, 2014

handcuffsTwo weeks ago, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Arizona against that state’s “revenge porn” law on behalf of several bookstores and other organizations. Revenge porn – which some people argue is a misleading term – was a big news item recently when some nude “selfies” of celebrities were leaked on the Internet, a clear violation of privacy. So far, thirteen states have passed revenge porn laws, but even advocates for such state laws, like Professor Danielle Citron, admit that many are poorly written and make even the display of nude images a crime. The ACLU suit lists an example of how this could put libraries on the wrong side of the law: “A library in Arizona provides computers with Internet access to its patrons and, because no filters could effectively prevent this result, the library patrons are able to access nude or sexual images.”

  • Bookstores, publishers sue to stop law against “revenge porn” (Ars Technica | Joe Mullin)  “The plaintiffs-in-suit are several bookstores, as well as the American Association of Publishers and the National Press Photographers Association. [Michael] Bamberger, a First Amendment specialist who’s working together with the American Civil Liberties Union in this case, added that librarians are concerned they could be held liable simply for providing Internet access.”
  • Is Arizona’s revenge porn law overbroad? (Forbes | Sarah Jeong)  “Note the particular bizarreness of the library example. The library gets netted by the law because how many different kinds of activities that the Arizona law criminalizes: ‘It is unlawful to intentionally disclose, display, distribute, publish, advertise or offer a photograph, videotape, film or digital recording of another person in a state of nudity or engaged in specific sexual activities if the person knows or should have known that the depicted person has not consented to the disclosure.’”
  • Revenge porn is malicious and reprehensible. But should it be a crime? (The Nation | Michelle Goldberg)  “At first glance, it can be hard to imagine any decent person objecting to these laws. State-level efforts, which target people who share nude images without the pictured person’s consent, vary considerably. Most make the crime a misdemeanor, with prison sentences of up to a year, though in Arizona it’s a felony. Georgia’s law includes the ‘depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state,’ while a bill that passed Michigan’s State Senate applies to sexually explicit drawings as well as photographs. The ACLU objects to most of this legislation, arguing that it is dangerous to criminalize the display of material that’s not obscene and was legally obtained.’”
  • Are revenge porn laws going too far? (Newsweek | Lauren Walker)  “In 2013, California decided that taking an intimate and confidential picture or video and distributing it with the intention of causing serious emotional distress to the victim is ‘disorderly conduct.’ In reaction, Lee Rowland of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project told NPR ‘the reality is that revenge porn laws tend to criminalize the sharing of nude images that people lawfully own.… That treads on very thin ice constitutionally.’”

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OPLIN 4cast #405: Goodbye, Yahoo Directory

October 1st, 2014

Yahoo logoLast Friday, in a progress report on “Product Focus,” Yahoo included three sentences announcing that “our business has evolved and at the end of 2014 (December 31), we will retire the Yahoo Directory.” While this is not surprising news — some of you youngsters may not even know what the Yahoo Directory is — it caught our attention because the original OPLIN website from mid-1996 to early 1999 was basically a collection of “link directories” (or “web directories”) similar to the Yahoo Directory. Before the founding of Google in 1998, link directories were the way people found things on the Internet. Librarians spent a lot of time building link directories and posting them on the Internet because that’s what librarians do; they help people find information. So in a way, the end of the Yahoo link directory is the end of one chapter in the history of the Internet that included a significant role for librarians.

  • Yahoo! is scuttling the only thing we knew them from (UPROXX | Bea Kaye)  “If you’re like me, then you had no idea that Yahoo! was actually an acronym. In 1994, Stanford students Jerry Yang and David Filo created a comprehensive web directory. At first they named it ‘Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web’, but shortly changed it to ‘Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.’ (If you are under the age of 20: Search engines sucked in the ’90s. Web directories like Yahoo were where it was at.)”
  • The Yahoo Directory — once the Internet’s most important search engine — is to close (Search Engine Land | Danny Sullivan)  “A ‘directory’ relies on humans to review websites, summarize them with short descriptions and organize them into a categories. When Yahoo started, this system was effective, because there weren’t that many pages on the web (relatively speaking) and automated search technology to organize websites wasn’t very good.”
  • End of an era: Yahoo Directory to shut down Dec. 31 (Best Techie | Shawn Farner)  “For a long time, the Directory was a big part of Yahoo’s business. That all changed when automated crawlers began indexing websites, and Yahoo partnered with several companies (including Google) to provide search results that weren’t compiled by humans. The Directory still existed, but it just wasn’t as important as it was in Yahoo’s heyday — the early-to-late ’90s.”
  • Yahoo will ring in the new year by killing its website directory (PCWorld | Zach Miners)  “Yahoo is also not the company it used to be. Since Marissa Mayer took over as CEO in 2012, she’s engineered a number of acquisitions and launched new products and apps, like digital video and online magazines, aimed at making Yahoo more relevant. But still, some things must go.”

Before the Ohio Web Library:

Below is a link directory of “Electronic Resources” from the original OPLIN website.
link directory

OPLIN 4cast #404: Better pictures

September 24th, 2014

picture frameChances are, your website has a lot of eye-catching images. In fact, if your site is typical of most websites, images probably account for about two-thirds of all the bytes that get delivered from your web server to the browser of someone looking at your site. And that’s OK, because a picture is worth a thousand words, right? But if the viewers of your website happen to be using smartphones, those pretty pictures may be worth a thousand angry words! Since that’s a problem for just about every website, HTML developers have come up with a new element tag: <picture>.

  • How a new HTML element will make the Web faster (Ars Technica | Scott Gilbertson)  “If you’ve got a nice fast fiber connection, that image payload isn’t such a big deal. But if you’re on a mobile network, that huge image payload is not just slowing you down, it’s using up your limited bandwidth. Depending on your mobile data plan, it may well be costing you money. What makes that image payload doubly annoying when you’re using a mobile device is that you’re getting images intended for giant monitors loaded on a screen slightly bigger than your palm. It’s a waste of bandwidth delivering pixels most simply don’t need.”
  • The new picture HTML code could make your website load faster (Small Business Trends | Joshua Sophy)  “Image-heavy Web pages can take a long time to download. Visitors get frustrated and leave your site. You may have implemented a responsive Web design, thinking that solves all your mobile problems. And it’s true that a responsive Web design solves some problems. It automatically arranges and displays your site elements to be viewed on smaller, narrower mobile screens. But responsive Web design isn’t the answer to everything. It doesn’t necessarily solve the image download issue.”
  • Native responsive images (Dev.Opera | Yoav Weiss)  “But, even though RWD [responsive Web design] sites looked different on each device, underneath, most of them continued to download the same resources for all devices. And since images comprised the major part of the bytes that websites were downloading, the developer community started to look into possible solutions to avoid this waste. […] The picture element specification that was written in collaboration between the community and browser vendors was merged into the HTML spec, and both Blink & Gecko’s implementations are destined to ship early this fall!”
  • Built-in browser support for responsive images (HTML5 Rocks | Pearl Chen)  “The <picture> element offers a declarative approach towards image resource loading. Web developers will no longer need CSS or JavaScript hacks to handle images in responsive designs. And users benefit from natively-optimized image resource loading—especially important for users on slower mobile internet connections. Alongside the newer srcset and sizes attributes recently added to <img>, the <picture> element gives web developers more flexibility in specifying image resources.”

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