On Habit and Self Reliance | March 10, 2015
I learnt to dive the PADI way, safe in the knowledge that my “buddy” would be there to help if I needed them. So if I was struggling to get my fins on they’d steady me, if I got caught in some fishing line they’d untangle me, and in the unlikely event that I ran out of air, we could breath from the same source. The “buddy system” provides a great comfort blanket and makes recreational diving that much safer.
Society often feels like part of a giant buddy system. If something goes wrong there’s usually somebody nearby to help you, whether it’s a parent, a teacher, a work colleague or a friend. However while support networks are a necessity, it’s all too easy to become dependant. This is most starkly reflected by the number of trivial calls placed to the emergency services.
I see this thinking a lot. People automatically looking for external solutions, rather than looking internally. Maybe they think it’s somebody else responsibility, maybe they don’t fully grasp their part in the problem, or maybe it’s just quicker and simpler to ask somebody else for help.
I recently undertook a cave diving course while on holiday in Mexico and was fascinated by the difference between recreational and technical diving. Sure, you still dove as part of a team, and would double check each others equipment, gas calculations and tie-offs (to ensure an uninterrupted line back to the surface). However each person had a specific role to play, whether that was setting the line or leading the team back to the exit.
Furthermore, there was a real focus on problem solving and self rescue. So if you got yourself into a tricky situation, like one of your tanks blew or you got tangled up in the line, you were encouraged to fix it yourself rather than immediately turning to your teammates for help.
As such a lot of the training involve being blindfolded (to simulate zero visibility) and trying to find your way out of a cave, while the instructor simulated various emergency situations like your regulator failing, one of your tanks suddenly emptying, getting your hoses caught on obstructions or losing contact with the line, all while trying to remain calm and fix the problem.
This may sound pretty challenging, and indeed it was. So there were times when I felt my instructor was being unnecessarily critical or harsh. However if you find yourself lost in a cave, 30 minutes from the surface with your air slowly running out and no sign of your team members, the habit you’ve formed by constantly being forced to solve your own problems, may just be the difference between life and death.
Craggy Island: The climbing gym that hates boulderers? | September 25, 2014
Over that last year I’ve got really into bouldering. I’m not especially good, but I enjoy the mental and physical challenge of solving bouldering problems over the tedium of a regular gym. I tried rope climbing once, but wasn’t keen on all the equipment or the need to climb in pairs. So I much prefer the freedom and flexibility that comes with bouldering.
When a work trip took me to Guildford, I decided to head down the evening before and check out Craggy Island. I’ve met a few people who climb there and highly recommend it, so I was looking forward to my bouldering session the whole drive up.
I’ve been to mixed climbing and bouldering places before, and have never had a problem. However when I arrived at Craggy Island I was turned away at the door. You see, despite only wanting to go Bouldering, the folks at Craggy Island won’t let boulderers into their gym unless they also know how to rope climb. I tried to explain that I only wanted to use the bouldering wall, but it fell on deaf ears.
Having been rope climbing once before, I decided to try my luck and give it a go. However without the necessary muscle memory I hit a mental block and couldn’t remember how to tie a belay knot. As each successive person passed by on their way into the gym, I began to feel more and more humiliated.
I tried to reason with the guy on the front desk. After all they were asking me to prove I could do something I had no intention of doing, just to get in. A little like asking for proof you can high-dive, when all you wanted to do is a couple of laps of the pool.
I asked if he could jog my memory as I was almost there, but he wasn’t willing to help. Instead he suggested I came back another time to do a refresher course - something I obviously couldn’t do because I was only there for a day, and didn’t want to do because I was only interested in bouldering.
Rather than trying to help, or give me the benefit of doubt, there was a real “jobsworth” mentality at play here. What if they let me in because I said I was going bouldering, but I lied and actually tried to scale the climbing wall not correctly tied in? This would make sense had I not been to mixed bouldering and climbing gyms in more litigious countries like the US and faced no such problem. Instead you just sign a waiver, hand over your money and are trusted to do the right thing.
Walking out of the gym I felt angry, humiliated and dejected. What should have been the highlight of my trip turned out to be the low point, and put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Instead of a great climb I left with the feeling that boulderers aren’t welcome at Craggy Island, and I most defitly won’t be going back.
The Post-digital Renaissance | March 24, 2013
We first saw it with food. People getting back to nature and growing their own veggies, or hitting the kitchen to bake their own sour dough. We then saw it with the the rise of the craft movement, inspiring a generation of knitters, potters and jewellery makers take back the skills their great grandparents once owned but were lost in the rush to convenience.
Next up were the artisanal bakers, cup-cake makers and independent coffee shops. Baking their own breads, frosting their own buns and roasting their own blends, all delivered on a fixed gear bike or (for added kudos) a Penny Farthing.
This trend was also seen in the world of fashion, with hipsters in New York, London and San Francisco donning tweed jackets and growing improbable facial hair as part of a new found chap manifesto. Second hand clothes were no longer the preserve of students and the term “vintage” came to mean something with history and craftsmanship.
At the same time, burlesque shows, tea dances and secret speakeasy’s have been on the rise, encouraging people to partake in the illicite joys of days gone by. I wonder when opium dens will come back in vogue.
The post digital age has seen a mass of disaffected hipsters, born into a world of Orwellian connectivity, embrace a simpler age when craft was king. They are throwing off the shackles of mass produced, industrialised garbage, keen to the lies of the marketing executives. Neighbourhoods like Brick Lane, Williamsburg and The Mission are seeing a kind of reverse gentrification, with local bakers, milliners and hardware stores taking over from big chains.
Fuelled by Etsy and Kickstarter, the new digital fronteer is no longer virtual. Instead we’re seeing a new generation of tinkers who want to see the network manifest in physical products. So the big tech conferences are awash with boxes the print, light-up or chime to the flow of the network.
It’s a curious trend and not the first time society has looked to the past for clues about the good life, or reapplied old wisdom through a new societal lens. So is this renewed interest in craftsmanship, tinkering and personal scientific discovery some kind of post-digital renaissance or are we simply going through the typical soul searching that occurs once a century once the initial party has finally wound down?
More importantly does it really matter? I think things are about to get very interesting (commercial space flight, personal drones, 3d printers in every home) and I’m really looking forward to seeing where it all goes.
Hanging with the Hipsters in East London | December 1, 2011
How Tower Bridge Changed My Relationship With Twitter | June 13, 2011
Like many geeks in the UK, the Tower Bridge Twitter account was one of the first Twitter Mashups I’d seen. It was also the point where I realised that Twitter was more than just a simple communication tool; it was a powerful and scriptable platform.
Talking publicly available data, local developer Tom Armitage created a Twitter Bot which automatically Tweeted whenever the bridge opened and a ship passed through. This was a rare occurrence in the city and something most people have never seen, so the account gave Londoners a new way of experiencing an iconic part of the city. As such over 4,000 people, from local developers to London Cabbies followed the account which had remained active for several years.
One of the things I loved about the account was that it spoke in the first person. By allowing an inanimate object to communicate with the real world, Tom had created an early example of a spime; an object which can be tracked through space and time. This little experiment inspired numerous other developers to experiment with the platform and became part of the Twitter story in the UK. As such I was saddened to find out that Twitter unilaterally decided to shut the account down. A sentiment shared by much of the London developer community.
It would seem that a company called Tower Bridge Exhibitions decided that they wanted the account for themselves so asked Twitter to hand it over. Rather than trying to contact Tom to discuss the claim, it appears that Twitter simply sent him a notification that the account was being pulled. This worries me for a number of reasons.
First and foremost it brings into stark relief the fact that we don’t own our online identities or the content we produce. We have few if any rights, and the companies behind these services can remove our accounts at will. I guess I’ve always felt a certain ownership over the services I use. After all, we’re all part of the reason for their success. So the fact that they can delete accounts at will is rather unsettling. It basically sends the message that you’d better play nicely or we’ll expunge you from history.
Secondly, it seems that social networks have an automatic presumption of guilt. So rather than attempting to contact users to discuss claims, the default response to an alleged copyright infringement is to send out a notification that action is being taken and put the onus on the user to respond quickly and defend themselves. This results in a disturbingly Kafkeresque approach to dispute resolution. A much better way would be to send multiple emails, set a deadline for response, put accounts on hold and then only hand over accounts once every attempt at resolution has been followed.
I’m a huge fan of Twitter and have always had very positive feelings about the company, their staff and the service they provide. However this latest incident has eroded some of my faith in their brand and they have taken one step closer to Facebook and Google in my eyes.
The Internets Never Forget | February 27, 2010
5 Years ago somebody wrote something stupid on the Internet that annoyed a bunch of bloggers enough to write about it, including myself. Yesterday I received a contrite email from this person saying that the incident had ruined their life and asking if I’d remove the post. It turns out that my blog post ranked in the top 20 results for this guys name and he was wondering if I’d remove the article. I considered it, as to be honest I’d completely forgotten about the event (as had most people 2 weeks after it happen) and I didn’t really care that much anyway. However it got me thinking about two different things.
On the one hand, the Internet can freeze youthful folly and a small transgressions can stick with you for life. So that picture of you drunk and passed out in a skip, or that heated argument you had on a mailing list when you were twenty can come back and haunt you. This is something that the Facebook generation is beginning to discover as they enter the job market only to have their potential boss Google their antics. Surely everybody deserves the anonymity of youth; to screw up a few times and not have it haunt you for life for ever. I’m a pretty decent chap and felt sorry for the guy, so was definitely tempted to strike his transgressions from the history books. I know that I’d want somebody to show me some compassion if the position was reversed.
On the other hand, by removing this information aren’t we effectively rewriting history? I’m sure we’ve all written dumb things on the Internet in the past, yet we don’t all go around asking for this information to be doctored. Shouldn’t people be forced to standby their mistakes and carry them with honour and dignity? Isn’t it important to know that the MP now campaigning for family values once smoked pot and screwed around? Similarly isn’t it useful to know that somebody who now makes their living writing standards based code once said…
“Standards cronies have now latched on to the disabled ‘the starving African children of high technology’ for leverage. Spend time reading A List Apart, and you’ll soon get the impression that accessibility is bigger than cancer, and we’re all about to go blind and lose our mouse-bearing limbs. The solution? Web standards!”
So what do you folks think? Should youthful folly be let to rest or is ther a moral obligation to keep this information around?
Information Anxiety | January 23, 2010
One of the problems of working in the knowledge economy is the constant need to keep abreast of current trends and thinking. This would be fine if you worked in a mature industry or one with a limited number of books, papers and conferences appearing each year. However in the knowledge economy of the web, more information is being published every day than could be consumed in a year. What’s more, that pace is increasing.
The problem is exacerbated by a number of things. First of all I’m a reasonably prolific speaker, so feel the need to spend time researching my next topic and synthesising the results. I also program two conferences so have to spend a certain amount of time researching potential speakers and reviewing their slides or presentation videos. Oh, and on top of that I’ve got a company to run, clients to satisfy and staff to look after. As such the majority of this research happens at evenings and weekends, outside office hours.
As such, I often find myself in a position of triage; making snap judgements about the value of information I find and then prioritising them accordingly. So I clip articles to Evernote, store audio in Huffduffer and podcasts in iTunes. I subscribe to RSS feeds, capture video presentations on PopScreen and store lists of books to read on Amazon. Oh, and I’ve got a stack of presentations to review on SlideShare at some stage. Every now and then I get chance to chip away at some of these data sources, but it’s rarely enough. Here’s a quick example of what I’m currently dealing with…
- 269 video presentations to watch
- 230 slide decks to review
- 36 books to read
- 542 unread RSS feed posts
- 141 podcast episodes to listen to
- 213 unread articles
It’s a classic case of Information Anxiety. Not enough free time to process all the information I want to. The result is a constant background level of stress. Even when I’m at rest I’m thinking about all the stuff I should, and could, be doing. Now I’ve always been a fairly relaxed person so am comfortable dealing with the stress. But it’s ever-present all the same.
I’ve been thinking about going on a holiday recently. Now with most holidays the point is to go away, relax and re-charge your batteries. However I’ve been toying with the idea of a different, and thoroughly 21st century holiday. Not to relax but to consume. The idea would be to go somewhere for a week or ten days with a stack load of book, articles, presentations and podcasts and get on top of my information overload. I’m not sure if this kind of working vacation common but I know at least a couple of friends who have dome this in the last few months.
Holidays at home are popular at the moment, so it’s something I considered. However I felt that the familiar scenery would force me into learnt patterns of behaviour that would prevent me from getting stuff done. Instead I’m looking for somewhere quiet—but not isolated—where I can spend the day snacking on information. It could be a cottage in the country or a hut on the beach. Just as long as the surroundings have enough variety to keep me interested and prevent me from getting cabin fever. So if you’ve got any ideas, give me a shout.
In the meantime, do you have trouble keep on-top of the wealth of information thrown at you? Have you developed interesting or useful coping strategies? Would love to hear from you.
Clearleft is Hiring | August 26, 2009
For those of you who missed my Twitter message earlier this week, Clearleft is looking for a top of their game front-end developer to join our happy little team in sunny Brighton.
If this sounds like you drop us a line and we’d love to hear more.
Opening Up My Twitter Stream | January 1, 2009
I first started using Twitter when our friend Dunstan used it to announce his new Job at Flickr back in 2006. Back then I had a small number of friends on my buddy list and used it as a more immediate way of chatting to people than our mailing list.
Over the next few months more people I knew discovered the app and my buddy list slowly started to grow. However it was still mostly friends; people who’s email addresses, IM details and mobile numbers I knew and who I’d talk to on a fairly regular basis. So I used it as a way of chatting to friends, sharing links, organising meet-ups and generally staying in touch with people.
The killer app at that time was the ability to both send and receive update notifications on your phone. This meant that Twitter became location based substitute to SMS. You could send out a notification of where you were and if friends were in the area they’d simply turn up. This led to lots of spontaneous meet-ups in cafes, bars and the like. Because of this I decided to keep my Tweets restricted to friends as didn’t necessarily want random acquaintances turning up at bars. This also meant that I was fairly careful who I added to my buddy list.
My Friends list swelled when I hit SXSW the following year. In 06 all the cool San Franciscans were using a service called Dodgeball to arrange meet-ups and let people know where the cool parties were. However this was really restricted to a small minority of people. By the time 07 had come round Twitter was really kicking in and this overtook Dodgeball and the way to stay up to date with what was happening at the event. So by the end of the week my list of Twitter buddies had swelled as people started swapping their Twitter names rather than their email addresses or phone numbers.
My buddy list no longer included just local friends. It now included a whole bunch of cool bloggers I’d met in the states. So as well as just substituting SMS for my local friends, I also started using it as a way to keep in touch with people further afield. It started to become a form of social grooming, or as Leisa Reichelt put it, Ambient Intimacy. A way of keeping those loose ties open and maintaining a larger social network than would otherwise have been possible. Essentially the same sociological process that Facebook was used for, but with less sheep tossing or pirate attacks.
My buddy list has now grown to 300 people and has started to include looser and looser connections; cool people I may have met once or twice at a conference or been out for a few beers with. It’s also started to include a few people I’ve never actually met, but whose work I admire. It also contains a few bots and other interesting sources of news.
So over the last year the character of my Twitter usage has changed. I still blog my location, but due to an increase in noise to signal ratio and the lack of text updates in the UK anymore, Twitter has become much less useful as an social organisation tool. I can’t think of the last time I accidentally met up with somebody who just happened to be in town at the same time as me. So while I still do Twitter what I’m doing, I do it with much less frequency as the potential benefits have been reduced.
I use the DM feature a lot, but without phone notifications it’s now a poor cousin of IM and SMS. Only used when I’m near a free wifi network and don’t want an immediate response. So it’s most useful for sending links and the occasional nudge.
Instead of using Twitter as a way of chatting with friends, staying in touch with people and manufacturing social opportunities, it’s become much more of a short form publishing tool. Blogging my thoughts, feelings, overheard conversations, movie reviews, interesting links etc. It still has a social element, but is much less directed than before. As such I’m seeing less and less reason to keep my Tweets private, so have decided to open them up and see how things go. So if you want to follow my random thoughts on Twitter, here are my details.
Of course I’m still a little concerned about the privacy implications of letting random people know where I am every second of the day, and I do wonder when the first Twitter aided break-in will occur. I’m also interested to see how this is going to affect my Twitter usage. Rather than posting up random thoughts to my friends, not worrying too much if I make a fool of myself, I’ll probably be a little more thoughtful about what I post and the affect it’ll have on my public persona. Or maybe I won’t. Who knows?
Top 10 Movies I've seen in 2008 | January 1, 2009
This isn’t necessarily a list of movies that came out in 2008. Just ones I’ve enjoyed watching.
- King of Kong
- In Search of a Midnight Kiss
- Dark Night
- Two Days in Paris
- No Country for Old Men
- In Bruges
- The Orphanage
- Tell No One
Any must see movies I’ve missed off that you’d recommend?
My Year in Song | December 31, 2008
January – “Forgiveness” by Engineers
I got this album around Christmas time and it’s been my drifting to sleep music ever since.
February – “Catastrophe And The Cure” by Explosions in the Sky
Explosions have been playing in the office for the previous 12 months, thanks largely to James. However it really came to the fore after seeing them play live.
March – “Chemistry” by Unkle
This one’s been on the boil since christmas, but the thumping intensity of Chemistry finally bubbled over in March.
April – “The Salmon Dance” by The Chemical Brothers
Stupid but fun.
May – “Kicking and Screaming” by The Presets
I picked the album up in Australia and it quickly became the soundtrack to my roadtrip and one of my most played albums of the year.
June – “A-Punk” by Vampire Weekend
Another Aussie roadtrip purchase, this one took a bit longer to grow on me.
July – “Salute your Solution” by The Saboteurs
I really liked this song when I accidentally saw the music video on MTV (or equivalent). The album took a while to grow on me but it’s actually quite good if you don’t mind the country aspect.
August – “Latchmere” by Maccabees
Another album that’s been played a lot in the office, it reached it’s peak towards the end of the summer.
September – “Electric Feel” by MGMT
I listened to MGMT loads during my summer jaunt to Devon and just kept playing it.
October – “Is There a Ghost?” by Band of Horses
This haunting track kept getting played throughout 08, with it’s peak in October.
November – “C-C (You Set the Fire in Me)” by Tom Vek
Another artist I’ve played to death, I finally managed to track the album down after scouring all the local record shops to no avail.
December - “Cassius” by Foals
Another group that’s been hanging round in my iPod playlist for some time and I finally got round to buying the CD. Definitely my theme tune this Christmas.
Shark! | February 18, 2008
A few weeks ago we organised a public speaking workshop for the whole of Clearleft. A lovely chap called Alex Marshall hosted the workshop, and asked us all to give a 5 minute presentation to the rest of the team. Each session was video recorded and then played back to help us see what we’re doing well and what we’re doing badly.
I’ve been a dive instructor for several years, and have worked as a safety diver on shark feeds in the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve dived with all sorts of sharks in my time, from little white tip reef sharks in Thailand to schools of over 50 hammerheads in the South China seas. There is nothing like jumping in the water with a top level predator to get the heart racing.
However my first ever experience of a shark underwater was dead, laying on the bottom of the ocean with it’s fin cut off. Shark meat isn’t worth much, so it’s quite common to slice the fins off a living shark and then throw it back in the water to slowly drown. As such, I chose to do my talk on the terrible shark finning trade around the world.
Shark fin soup is increasing in popularity due to the economic success of China and other Asian countries. At $100 per bowl in some Hong Kong restaurants, shark fin soup is a sign of power and wealth. However it has little in the way of taste or nutritional value, with all the flavour coming from the chicken stock it’s cooked in. It’s really just there so you can say you’ve eaten shark.
The raising demand for shark fins is having a dramatic effect on the shark population. Many sharks don’t reproduce until the age of 15, so they are extremely sensitive to over fishing. As a top level predator, their disappearance may also have dramatic effects on other parts of the eco-system. There was evidence a few years back that the spiney lobster stocks around Tasmania had collapsed as a direct result of shark overfishing. With no sharks to keep octopus number in check, there was a massive bloom octopus numbers and they were eating all the lobsters.
The problem is that sharks have gained an undeserved reputation as killers, largely as a result of films like Jaws. In reality there are only around 5 unprovoked shark attacks per year, while around 50 million sharks are killed by the finning trade. Much of this trade domes from Europe, which supplied about a third of the fins used ion the Hong Kong shark trade. Spain is the worst culprit, but the UK also has pretty poor regulations.
People love dolphins because they are cute, but few people care about the fate of the shark.
This is anecdotal, but I personally witnessed the affect of overfishing sharks in as little as 3 months. When I was working on the island of Koh Phi-Phi back in 1999, the fishermen were catching fairly large specimens. However as the weeks progressed I noticed the catches getting smaller and smaller until one day, no more sharks were being caught. I went back to Thailand this time last year, and underwater sightings of sharks in the area had dropped to almost zero.
I noticed there was an article in the Times today on the fate of the worlds shark population. It seems that the Hammerhead shark, along with 8 other species, has been put on the ‘red list’ of endangered species. Apparently stocks of the scalloped hammerheads have fallen by 98 percent off the US Atlantic coast since 1970. It’s an interesting read, so I urge you to take a look.
We’re starting to see a resurgence of documentary making at the moment, and Sharkwater gets it’s UK release on the 22nd of February. The movie charts the film makers journey of discovery as he sets out to make an underwater shark adventure but ends up getting embroiled in the international finning trade. I’ll be going to see the movie and I hope you will to. In the meantime, please support the anti finning movement by avoiding any restaurants that sell shark fin soup.
User Experience Intern at Clearleft | February 6, 2008
Clearleft is offering a 3-4 month paid internship this summer, for one talented individual. You’ll need to have basic knowledge and interest in the field of user experience design and be willing to work alongside our consultants on real world projects. Previous experience is desirable, but as this is an internship, you’ll get lots of on-the-job training from the rest of our team.
There will be an interview process, so we’ll need to see resumes, cover letters and any examples of work you may have. As we are based in the UK, you’ll also need the right to work here as we’re unable to organise work permits for such a short period.
This is a great opportunity for a recent graduate keen to progress in the fields of information architecture, usability and user-centred design. So if this sounds like you, please drop us a line with your details. Closing date is on Friday 22nd February, so you may want to get your skates on.
The Defining Culture of the Naughties? | January 8, 2008
So another year has gone and we’ve only got a couple left till the end of the “naughties” and the start of a new decade. Ever since the second world war, each decade has been typified by it’s own unique culture, usually a combination of the music and fashion of the day. These cultural movements start small and localised, but the popular ones thrive and get transported round the world via movies, radio, magazines and TV. Prior to the war, cultural movements did exist. They just were more localised and look longer to propagate due to the lack of mass media.
Sat chatting with a few friends on New Years Eve, we started pondering what cultural movements defined the “naughties”. In the 60s you had the Mods and Rockers, the 70s saw the rise of Disco, while the late 80s saw birth of Rave culture. The 90s, while not typified by any particular fashion style, saw the whole era of BritPop. However try as we might, we struggled to think of this decades defining culture. Sure there were subcultures like “emo” or “chav”, although the latter is more slur than pop culture.
Simon Wilison postulated that the “naughties” were defined by Internet culture, and while the idea was attractive, it didn’t hold up to scrutiny. After all, their isn’t really a single Internet culture, but multifarious ones. And then Simon said something that really struck a chord. He suggested that the “naughties” were the decade of the “long-tail”. That essentially the democratisation of mass media had led to one big melting-pot of individual cultures rather than a few tightly defined one.
Rather than people dividing themselves into groups defined by the music they listen to or the cloths they wear, the people of the “naughties” define themselves on a much more atomic level, by a particular artist or item of clothing. Looking from a great height, popular culture seems very homogenised. However if you look at people under a microscope, everybody is minutely different to everybody else in such a way as to damped emergent patterns.
So what does this mean? Does this mean that the “naughties” are the end of popular culture movements as everybody truly becomes and individual? Does it mean that when our children look back on these days they won’t be rifling through our wardrobes looking for that “naughties” look, because they’ll still pretty much look the same?
I’ve always harboured the fantasy that in 40 years time all the OAPs will be wearing the same scruffy t-shirts and baggy pants their children and grandchildren will be wearing, travelling around of skateboards and buying the same music. Surely if this happens the yoof will be forced to rebel and go even further back in time. Who knows, maybe when we’re all retired the kids of tomorrow will be wearing ridiculously big ruffs and listening to Elizabethan revival music? God I hope not!
Opera vs Microsoft Reprise | January 2, 2008
Thanks for all the fantastic comments on my previous post about Opera’s complaint to the European Commission. Sorry it’s taken a while to post a follow-up, but I moved house over the holidays and BT haven’t sorted out my Internet connection yet. Anyway, I’ll try to address some of the issues that were raised in the comments, but apologies if I miss anything out.
I personally believe that Microsoft have been doing a great job over the last couple of years brining their browser up to scratch. IE7 still has a few issues, but then again, what browser doesn’t? So I honestly think IE is pretty comparable with its competition in regards to current standards support. Future standards support is another issue, but I’ll cover that in a future post.
As a quick aside, the concept of “fully standards complaint” is a tricky one and the reason why CSS2.1 is taking so long to finish. The CSS2 specification was very loose and didn’t cover error handling or fall-back cases. As such, each browser took it’s own stance and you ended up with them technically following the spec while at the same time behaving differently. CSS2.1 attempts to address this problem by defining these niche issues, but as you can imagine it’s taking a long time.
I agree that IE7 is a much more capable browser these days, so many of the concerns developers have about Microsoft’s market dominance have vanished. This is one reason why I think Opera should remove the issue of standards support from their complaint. This leaves the complaint purely about monopolistic business practices which, from the content of your comments on my previous post, people seem less concerned about. This makes perfect sense as we’re mostly concerned with making our lives and the lives of our users easier, rather than worrying about the ethics of global business.
However on the ethics side, I think it’s important to make the distinction between people not being able to pre-install a different browser on their machines and simply not wanting to. I agree that most hardware manufacturers would probably stick with IE as, like a few people mentioned, that’s what most home users expect. However surely manufacturers should have the right to install whatever browser they want on their hardware? I could definitely see a case where manufacturers would try to distinguish themselves through the software they bundle with their machines. And I could foresee large companies such as IBM buying computers pre-installed with Firefox rather than IE.
The issue isn’t about supplying a PC to end users that doesn’t come with a browser pre-installed. That would obviously be stupid. The issue is about allowing computer manufacturers, and by extension their end users, to choose what browser or browsers come pre-installed. Whether people choose to exercise that right is another matter.
On Experts and Expertise | December 2, 2007
We currently live in a world dominated by experts. You only have to open a newspaper or switch on the television to see experts giving pronouncements on everything from parenting to the economy. In a world of multifarious complexities, the need for such experts is clear. We need experts to filter the huge flow of information and simplify it into something more digestible.
I experienced this recently while looking for a mortgage on my new flat. With thousands of products available and a limited knowledge of the market, I turned to an independent financial advisor for help. The financial expert helped evaluate my needs and whittled the choice down to just two or three products. With the right tools, I probably could have done this myself. However relaying on the expertise of another person made my choice much easier and helped mitigate a certain amount of risk.
The crucial aspect of being an expert is experience. We can all open a book and learn about a topic, but that doesnâ€™t make us an expert. Expertise comes from repetitionâ€“from doing something over and over again until it becomes second nature. Experience lets us develop patterns, hone our skills and learn from our mistakes. Experience counts.
To get the most out of an expert, you need to trust their experience and relinquish a certain amount of control. This doesnâ€™t mean that you should follow their ideas blindly without any critical analysis of your own. However when faced with a decision about which you have little or no experience, it makes sense to weight the result in favour of the expert.
Unfortunately itâ€™s actually quite difficult to relinquish this control, especially if youâ€™ve not worked with the expert before and canâ€™t vouch for their results. I found this to be the case when looking for a mortgageâ€“constantly asking the expert questions to sound out their expertise and give me enough information to make a decision. Often the real benefit of hiring an expert is in the transmission of their expertise to you.
The use of experts can help increase the chances of success, but they are no means infallible. This is because experts are simply offering an expert opinion, and while their opinions may be more informed than most, they are still just opinions. In the world of the expert, itâ€™s not uncommon to see two experts disagree quite vehemently on a subject. This could be down to the different experiences they have had, or simply because they have chosen to interpret those experiences differently.
Sadly it seems that being an expert these days has less to do with experience and more to do with the strength and simplicity of their message and how well it resonates with the listener. We like our experts to have simple, definitive answers to essentially complex questions. How else can we explain why people listen to the advice of quacks like â€œDrâ€? Gillian McKeith over real doctors with years of medical training and experience?
If an expert pronounces something as fact, we tend to take them at face value. After all, theyâ€™re the experts right? If they turn out to be wrong, weâ€™re safe in the knowledge that we trusted somebody better informed than us, and it was their mistake, not ours. Conversely, we mistrust experts who arenâ€™t willing to give a definitive answer or one that fits with our own mental models. We dislike any form uncertainty and see this as a sign of weakness, rather than a true assessment of the situation.
This has lead to a dangerous form of rhetoric that values the singularity and strength of an expertâ€™s opinion over the accuracy and validity of their assessment. People seem to admire sticking to a set of generic and intractable beliefs over the ability to critically analyze and understand a problem from numerous angles. As Albert Einstein once said, we should “make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Sadly a lot of experts focus on the first part of that statement, without fully understanding the important or significance of the second part. Our craving for simplicity over complexity seems to come at the detriment of proper understanding.
Mon Dieu, les Pirates | April 5, 2007
Some nice French chap likes the Clearleft website so much, he’s decied to take it as his own. Seems like there is a lot of this type of stuff going on at the moment. On one front it’s very flattering, but on the other it’s deeply disappointing.
Yahoo, OpenID and the Identity Problem | February 19, 2007
I’ve been using Flickr for a couple of years and joined before they were bought by Yahoo! As such, I’ve always logged into my account using my “old school” username and password. When Yahoo! acquired flickr, they obviously wanted to promote the service to their existing user base, so allowed people to log in with a Yahoo! account as well.
Over the ensuing months, the Yahoo! account was promoted as the primary way of using flickr and the “old school” log-in was demoted to a small link at the bottom of the page. I had hoped that the “old school” log in would be retained as I didn’t really want to register for a Yahoo! account. I’m not sure why. It may have been that I liked the anonymity of having multiple, unlinked accounts or it simply may have been that I didn’t use any other Yahoo! services at the time and didn’t see then need for a centralised log-in. It may also have had something to do with an innate geek mistrust of large organisations controlling my online identity a la Microsoft Passport. Whatever the reason I resisted the urge.
A few weeks ago flickr informed me that they were phasing out the old school accounts and requiring their users to log-in using a Yahoo! account instead. I can understand the reason for this. After all, what organisation wants to manage multiple log-in types when they can have a single log-in for their whole portfolio of sites. More importantly, identity management and unified log-in are going to be a big battleground over the next few years.
If you control a persons identity online, you can really influence the services they consume. For instance, if I have a Yahoo! log-in, but not a Microsoft one, there is much more chance that I’ll consume Yahoo! products rather than being forced to create a whole new identity. This is especially true if my identity includes information like my network of friends, as it means I don’t have to recreate this information every time I sign up for a new service. The more concerning side is that it also allows companies to track my behaviour across a variety of online properties much like the company loyalty cards I dislike so much.
So slightly against my better judgement, I signed up for a Yahoo! ID. Rather annoyingly my preferred account name of “andybudd” had already been taken. Admittedly it may have already been taken by me, but going through the password retrieval process I was unable to find an account that matched. I also tried “theandybudd” but that was gone as well. I ended up with “andybudd72” which was really annoying as it meant I was forced to ditch my familiar flickr log-in for a much less familiar one.
I’ve currently got five or six usernames on various sites that all relate to a single person: me. This causes a bit of an identity problem. If I owned the username “andybudd” on every new site, you would know that the user who posted pictures on flickr was the same Andy Budd who posted messages on twitter or messages to your blog. Without this central control of identity, you can assume that it’s the same person, but it could equally be another Andy Budd or even somebody username squatting. On a more prosaic level, it also means I have to remember a bunch of different usernames, their associated passwords, and what sites they relate to. This is a bit of a pain.
While at BarCampLondon2 yesterday (which was excellent btw) I sat in on Simon Willison’s session on OpenID. I saw his presentation on the subject last year, and thought it looked like an interesting concept. However it didn’t seem like many sites were using the technology at the time. Fast forward a few months and it seems like a lot more sites have started using it, so during the session I set up an account and then tried a couple of sites like magnolia. This was cool, but the real kicker for me was IDProxy, a service Simon created to allow you to use your Yahoo! account as an OpenID. By adding a couple of links to the head of your web page, you can now log in to a variety of sites using only your domain name, taking us a big step closer to solving the identity problem.
Radio BritPack | February 16, 2007
Seems I have very little in common with my BritPack chums.
End of Year Review: 2006 | January 11, 2007
End of year reviews are all the rage in the blogosphere, and I’ve been meaning to do one since before Christmas. However if 2006 was typified by anything, it was a severe lack of free time. This has yet to abate, which is why I’m late to the party with my review of the year. 2006 has left a deep impression on me for a variety of reasons. In fact I’d say that it was probably the most tumultuous year I’ve had in a long time.
The year started off well with the publication of my first book. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to CSS Mastery, and would like to thank everybody who went out and bought a copy. Considering most tech books sell less than a thousand copies, the book has surpassed my wildest expectations, selling over 15,000 copies and reaching it’s 7th print run. It’s ended up being my publishers best selling book this year, as well as appearing in Amazon’s Top 10 Editors Picks and Top 10 Customers Favourites of 2006. However the highlight had to be briefly beating Harry Potter in the Amazon sales rankings, if only for a couple of days.
I spoke at SXSW again in 2006, and had a super time. The British invasion was even bigger than the previous year, and we ended up leaving our mark on Austin both figuratively and literally. There were some amazing parties, and the free food and drink was flowing even more copiously than before. In fact I think I only spent $50 the entire time I was there! It was great to meet up with friends from the previous year, as well as meeting lots of new people. SXSW 2007 is only a couple of months away now, and I can’t wait.
After the conference I headed down Mexico with my then girlfriend for a well deserved spot of R&R. Highlights included the ruins at Tulum, diving the caverns of Dos Ojos, and enjoying the bath warm private pool at our hotel. Shear heaven.
Over the last year Clearleft has been going from strength to strength. In June we celebrated our first birthday and office move with a party at our favourite cocktail bar. Six months later and we’d moved again, this time to swish new offices in Brighton’s trendy North Lane. In the past year we’ve had the honour of working with some amazing clients on some truly fantastic projects. As well as project work, we’ve also been running a lot of training courses, along with organising our second web development conference.
d.Construct 2006 was a resounding success, with tickets selling out in just 36 hours. We had some great speakers this year, and if you haven’t listened to them already, the podcasts are available online. Everybody who came seemed to have a good time, and you see what they all said via the excellent backnetwork. We’ve already started planning for next years event and I’m really excited about how it’s starting to shape up.
Talking of conferences, I had the pleasure of speaking at a load of great events last year including @media2006, BarCampLondon, Webmaster Jam and Refresh06. Refresh was particularly fun as I also got to go on a behind the scenes tour of the Kennedy Space Centre thanks to one of Paul’s listeners from Boagworld. There are even more great events planned for next year, including @media2007 in Hong Kong which I’m really looking forward to.
During the summer, my girlfriend and I finally bought a flat in the Kemptown area of Brighton. We’d been going out for 7 years and slowly watched house prices rise around us. I’d always been very hesitant about buying a flat together, but it was something Mel had wanted to do for some time and I eventually capitulated. It was a lovely little flat, and we put our energy into sorting the place out. On the surface things seemed OK, but that turned out not to be the case.
Over dinner one evening, Mel told me that she didn’t think things were working any more. I was initially quite shocked and tried to salvage the relationship. However during the next couple of months it became evident that we’d been treading water the last few years and had drifted apart. We were still close friends, but the relationship was over and I decided to move out. This was a very hard time for me, so would like to thank my friends and colleagues for their support and understanding during this time.
Thankfully things are starting to look up and I’m hopeful that 2007 will be a good year. I’ve found a nice little flat on my own and am currently readjusting to single life. I’ve recently met somebody new, and am enjoying the first phases of a new relationship. However I don’t want to jinx things by saying any more at this stage. Work is going well and there is even talk of a new book. So who knows what 2007 will hold?
Win an iPod Nano with CSS Mastery this Christmas | December 8, 2006
Christmas is well and truly on the way, and I’ve got a fantastic seasonal competition for all my readers.
As you know, tech books make wonderful presents for the whole family, from Grandma and Grandpa through to little Johnny. So why not get Santa to empty his sack for you this Crimbo and stuff a copy of CSS Mastery in a loved-ones stocking.
Simply write a post on your blog telling Santa why you, your friend or family member deserves a copy of CSS Mastery this Christmas. Title your post something sensible like “CSS Mastery iPod Giveaway” and link back to this post. Then add a link to your post in the comments here so we can find it again later.
The top 6 “letters to Santa” will win a copy of CSS Mastery for the person in their letter, and one lucky person will also win an 2GB iPod nano for themselves, courtesy of friends of ED.
Adobe | December 5, 2006
Back in the good old days, when you paid money for a product or service, the people you bought said product of service from treated you with a certain amount of respect. After all, you were their customers and the people keeping them in business. These days, rather then being treated like valuable clients, customers are treated like thieves and pirates.
A classic case in point is when you go to a movie theatre these days and the finger of suspicion is immediately pointed towards you for being a pirate. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the screen, you are told, and if you do the police will be called and you’ll be ejected from the cinema. I remember the days when people were thought to be innocent until proven guilty, but sadly that right no longer exists.
I recently bought a copy of Photoshop for the office, but when I tried to install it on my laptop as well as my desktop (as sanctioned by the licence) it all went wrong. I was presented with an error screen saying that my copy of photoshop needed to be verified online. I followed the instructions and was told that there was an error and it needed to be verified by phone. Again I followed the instructions, but there was an error and I was told that I needed to speak to an operator.
The verification process was intended to prevent people from pirating Photoshop, but all it was doing was preventing as legitimate user from running the program. It basically locked you out of the software, pointed the finger of blame and forced you to prove that you had the right to run the product.
After filling the serial number and activation code online and on an automated phone service, I was forced to read it out to an operator. You would have hoped that this information would already have been passed to the operator but no such luck. The operator I spoke to tried to fix the problem, but had no luck. In the end he had the nerve to tell me that the problem was with my new MacBook and not the software. Now I’m sorry, but if your anti piracy software is preventing me running Photoshop on my laptop, them the problem is squarely on your shoulders.
Eventually I managed to get the software working, but it cost me a good 2 hours of my time and numerous angry phone calls.
This morning, when I tried to open up Photoshop on my desktop, exactly the same thing happened. I was essentially being told that I was a pirate and that I had to phone Adobe to prove that I wasn’t. Again I rang up, and this time complained about the shoddy customer service Adobe and Photoshop were providing. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of an apology, but I wasn’t expecting to be hung up on, which is exactly what happened. The bastards!
So I’d just like to take the opportunity to tell Adobe and other software vendors that if you start accusing your paying customers of being liars and thieves, you’ve already lost the battle and you don’t deserve our sympathy and support. Because frankly, if you treat your clients like thieves, where is the motivation not to act like one?
Patently Unfair | November 3, 2006
In a current British car campaign, the advert proudly exclaims that the manufacturer filed for 9,621 patents during the development of it’s latest gas guzzler, while NASA has only filed 6,509. The intention here is clear. The car manufacturer is trying to claim that the filing of patents is evidence that their engineers are more innovative that the worlds best rocket scientists. This works because the majority of people still assume that patents relate to complicated innovations that take yeas to perfect. Sadly this couldn’t be further from the case.
The purpose of patents is a good oneâ€“to protect the time and efforts companies put into research and development in order to create new innovations. However when you look at some recent patents you realise they are often vaguely worded descriptions or badly drawn sketches used to describe obvious, and sometimes pre-existing, concepts. Rather than protecting the commercial cost of innovation, patents are actually doing the exact opposite. Being used a way to extract levies off other companies for their hard work and effort.
A classic example is Amazon and their one-click patent. Many companies are now forced to pay Amazon a licence fee just to be able to use the concept of one-click payment. Then there is the GIF file format, which allowed Unisys to tax graphic design packages for many years. And any article on ridiculous patents wouldn’t be complete without mention of British Telecom’s ludicrous claim over the hyperlink.
In a glorious case of “the shoe being on the other foot”, a couple of weeks ago IBM announced they were going to sue Amazon for patent infringement. It seems that IBM own patents for “Presenting Applications in an Interactive Service”, “Storing Data in an Interactive Network”, “Presenting Advertising in an Interactive Service” and “Ordering Items Using an Electronic Catalogue”. In a beautiful demonstration of doublespeak, IBM’s senior VP for technology is quoted as saying “When someone takes our property… we have no option but to protect it through every means available to us”.
Rather than companies spending money coming up with new innovations, and then bringing those innovations to market, it seems that companies are filing more and more patents with the sole purpose of extracting licensing revenue from unsuspecting companies. This seems to be in exact opposition to the original point of patents.
If the worlds courts wanted to do something about this, they could. By limiting legal pay outs to a multiple of the effort spent coming up with the patent, you could protect the work and effort that goes into real innovation, while at the same time making spurious legal cases completely redundant. For instance if somebody infringed the patent on a new drug that cost the manufacturer $10 million to produce, you could claim compensation of $100 million. However if you spent half an hour one rainy Sunday morning deciding to patent the idea of “Presenting Advertising in an Interactive Service” then I think a days wages is all you should receive in return. After all, the value isn’t in the idea, it’s in the successful implementation.
Sadly this isn’t the case and as time goes on, the disturbing misuse of patents is only going to increase. I worry that one day, if you want to set up a website of any kind, you’ll be forced to pay a percentage of all your income to an industry body like the BMI, set up solely to collect payments for spurious patent infringement on behalf of a few large corporations.
Web Design Books: Wishlist | September 4, 2006
There have been some great books released recently, and there are even more on the way. Here is the list of books I’m looking forward to reading. What books do you want to get your hand on?
- Talent Is Not Enough â€“ Interesting looking book on the business of web design.
- Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences â€“ A potentially interesting book on customer and user experience.
- Publish and Prosper: Blogging for Your Business â€“ Possibly interesting book on business blogging.
- Inside/Outside: From the Basics to the Practice of Design â€“ A book about design fundamentals.
- Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices â€“ A look into user experience design.
- Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning â€“ It’s all about the deliverables.
- The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web â€“ Not entirely sure how you can manage to fill an entire book on personas, but am eager to find out.
- Pro CSS Techniques â€“ CSS books don’t grab me anymore, but this one has potential.
- Transcending CSS: The Fine Art of Web Design â€“ Another hotly awaited CSS book.
Web Design Books: New Releases | August 31, 2006
It seems a lot of people I know are releasing books at the moment. Here is a small selection of them. If I’ve missed any out, please let me know.
- Professional CSS for Web Development: From Novice to Professional â€“ Simon Collison’s latest work.
- Build Your Own Website The Right Way Using HTML & CSS â€“ Ian Lloyd’s latest book.
- Designing with Web Standards â€“ The second edition of Jeffrey Zeldmans seminal work, complete with a quote from yours truly on the back cover.
- Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance â€“ Great accessibility book, including a chapter by our very own Richard Rutter.
Web Design Books: Recent Acquisitions | August 25, 2006
I recently bought a bunch of web design books from Amazon.com, and got a load more sent to me by my publishers. Despite the fact that I enjoy reading web related books, I never seem to have the time these days. However with the books starting to pile up, I need to get them off the shelf and into my head as soon as possible.
Here is my current reading list. What is yours?
- Ambient Findability â€“ Enjoyed the talk at SXSW so thought I’d by the book.
- Designing Interfaces â€“ This looks like a really interesting read, and what’s more it’s in colour.
- Prioritizing Web Usability â€“ Despite what you may think about Jakob, he does talk a lot of sense
- The Elements of User Experience/â€“ Read this one a while ago, so thought it was about time I had my own copy.
- Information Architecture for the World Wide Web â€“ Thought I’d get the second edition. Aparently the third edition is out soon.
The Joy of Web Design Books | August 23, 2006
Many people complain that the majority of information found in computer books is already available online. If you’re searching for answers to a specific question and know where to look, this is probably true. However if you’re after a detailed overview of a subject, you’ll need to look across a wide spectrum of sites, and it becomes increasingly difficult to build up a cohesive and authoritative picture.
The web tends to be very broad, but not very deep. This is particularly true of blog posts, which are oftern short, targeted writings around a very specific subject. Many blogs have a general theme, so an entire collection of post can produce a reasonable amount of depth. However there tends not to be a narrative joining posts together, or an overriding message or purpose. As such, blogs posts are much more a collection of vaguely interconnected ideas, than a well thought out and considered treatise.
This is where books come in. With months to consider a problem, the skilled author has time to create a narrative the joins a collection of ideas together into a meaningful proposition. Rather than hunting around for snippets of information, a well thought out book can allow the reader to dive right in and understand a fairly complex set of issues relatively quickly.
There are some great web design books around at the moment, and even more waiting in the wings. Over the next few days I’m going to list some of the books I’ve bought recently, some I’m looking forward to buying and some of the hottest new releases.
Fancy Working for Clearleft? | August 22, 2006
You’ll be the type of person who loves the web and wants to make it better. Passionate about IA and usability, you’ll enjoy discussing everything from the structure of an entire site through to the positioning of a single button. Up on the latest trends and techniques, you’ll know your Ajax from your elbow and be able to explain the benefits of tagging and folksonomies.
Work will be varied, so we’re after somebody who is flexible and loves a challenge. You may be developing interactive wireframes one day, running an IA workshop or usability test the next.
We’re looking for somebody who is an expert at creating complicated wireframes (both paper and XHTML/CSS) and is in their element running card sorts, developing site maps and presenting your ideas to clients. As a excellent communicator, you’ll be happy writing reports, managing clients and writing articles for our site. However as a small company you won’t just be limited to IA. You’ll need to take an active role in every aspect of our business, from managing projects and improving our processes through to helping out at events and conferences. Not afraid to get your hands dirty, you may even need to do a spot of XHTML/CSS production on occasion.
So if this sounds like you, check out the job spec, and we hope to hear from you soon.
.Net Magazine | July 25, 2006
Last year I bemoaned the sorry state of UK web design magazines. Most of the magazines I came across were hobbyist titles, full of Flash portfolios, “how to” tutorials in Dreamweaver, and articles about setting up a shopping site in under 10 minutes. None of these titles seems to focus on professional designers, and they all seemed stuck in an Internet of five years out of.
I used to subscribe to a magazine called Create Online during the dotcom years, and from what I remember it was pretty good. They would have interviews with top designers, check out agency portfolios, and take a look inside company offices. This was obviously a lot more impressive when agencies had sushi bars and golf courses in their buildings, but it was still a good way to see what was going on in the industry. Along with this they would run the usual feature articles, and I even remember one about web standards that included an interview with Jeffrey Zeldman.
Unfortunately the magazine stopped being published, and I got sent a copy of something called .Net as a replacement. Sadly .net was aimed more at web users than developers and was full of articles about ISPs, Spam and ways to make money off the web. There were some tutorials, but they were all very basic and obviously aimed at the amateur enthusiast rather than the web professional.
I quickly cancelled my subscription and didn’t look at .Net magazine again for a long while. Over the coming years, .Net magazine slowly cut back on the Internet news and started concentrating more of web development. It was still pretty low level stuff, with lots of “how to” articles in Dreamweaver, but there was definite improvement. There was even the odd standards based article from the likes of Rachel Andrew.
Towards the middle of 2005, .Net magazine seemed to get a renewed vigour and a small re-lunch in Oct 2005 saw a subtle change of focus from a hobbyist magazine to a more professional audience. This was typified by more in-depth articles such as Jeremy Keith’s DOM scripting tutorial, a topic that probably wouldn’t have received coverage a few months earlier. Subsequent editions saw articles on web development trends, Ajax, British design and PAS 78.
Last month the magazine went through it’s biggest overhaul yet. The magazine saw a compleate redesign, giving it a modern and unified look. However it was the new content that really impressed me. The August Issue of .net saw interviews with Mike Davidson and Jon Hicks, articles by Jesse James Garrett and Stuart Langridge, and tutorials from John Oxton, Gareth Knight and myself. On top of that there was a good article on website redesigns, a look at “the real web2.0”, a great editorial by Andy Rutledge and a sweet tutorial about mod_rewrite by Rik Lomas.
As part of the re-launch I was asked to become part of the magazines advisory panel along with Molly Holzschlag, Andy Clarke and Patrick Lauke. The idea behind the panel is to provide the publishers with industry feedback, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the redesign, and the type of content you’d like to see in future issues.
As part of the advisory panel, we get to see the next issue a couple of days before it reaches the shops. I’ve had a quick flick through issue 153 and it looks pretty good. I hope I’m not giving the game away when I say it includes an interview with Joshua Schachter, an article on business blogging, an editorial on speculative design contests, a tutorial by John Oxton on liquid layouts and another tutorial by Rik Lomas on Google Maps.
The re-launch issue was a great read, and I hope the future issues will be of the same high quality. If you are like me and dismissed .Net magazine in the past, I’d definitely give it another look.
Guerilla Book Marketing | June 24, 2006
Call me naive, but I always thought the books displayed cover out at bookshops were done so because the staff liked the books or they were good sellers. It wasn’t until I dipped my toes in the publishing world that I found out you actually have to pay for your books to be presented this way.
If you have a publisher with good industry connections and deep pockets, your books get featured this way. This is why you see the same few title in every bookshop you go to. It’s not an indication of quality, just that the companies behind them have a bigger marketing budget. This probably helps explain the ubiquity of the dummies series.
So I’m going to suggest a guerilla book marketing campaign to help support your favourite authors. If you’re browsing the bookshelves and see a book you like, simply flip it cover out. It doesn’t have to be one of my books, although that is always appreciated. It doesn’t even have to be a computer book. Any book will do.
And if you have a camera with you, why not grab a pic and post up the evidence. Here are a few to get you started.
Free WiFi | May 3, 2006
I think its probably due to the number of free hotspots in Brighton, and more recently in Austin, but I really object to paying for WiFi. There is something about the lack of wires that has made companies want to commoditize it and sell it as a premium service. I could understand a few years ago when wireless enabled laptops were rare and the base stations were relatively expensive. However hardware prices have tumbled in the last few years and WiFi cards are now ubiquitous.
The thing that I really don’t get is places that have free wired connections but expect you to pay for WiFi. A case in point. I’m currently writing this in the BA club lounge at Heathrow terminal one. Next to me is a bank of 40+ computers, all free to use. To provide this, BA have had to buy the computer equipment, install a network and set up a pipe. BA have gone to great expense to provide this as a value-added service to their business customers, so why on earth are they charging for WiFi?
The infrastructure is already there. I’m even doing them a favor by providing my own equipment. What is it about the lack of wires that turns something from a value added service into an overpriced commodity? With so many business travelers owning their own laptop, surely it would make more sense to provide the WiFi for free and charge for the use of the computers?
I don’t get it!
And the Winner Is! | April 20, 2006
The entries are in, the votes have been tallied, and I’m pleased to announce the winner of the CSS Mastery iPod competition.
The second runner up is Adam McArdle for his ice hockey entry.
Thanks to everybody else who entered. There were some fantastic submissions, which made it really tough picking a winner.
LinkedOut | April 17, 2006
A couple of years ago when social software was all the rage, a friend recommended I joined LinkedIn. The idea was based on the concept of Six Degrees of Separation and allowed you to make new contacts through your existing group of friends and colleagues. For this to work you obviously had to sign up everybody you knew, so I spent the next couple of weeks trawling through my contacts list and growing my network. At the end of process I was pleased by the number of cool people I knew and how I was only a couple of steps away from Jeffrey Zeldman.
Every now and then somebody I knew would ask to get connected, to which I’d dutifully comply. Occasionally somebody I didn’t know asked to get connected, to which I’d politely decline. A couple of times I noticed spikes, where a bunch of people obviously just discovered LinkedIn and started adding contacts, often related to some kind of conference or event. However apart from adding the odd contact, I never actually used the service. In fact I never quite understood the usefulness of the application.
A couple of times I wanted to contact friends of friends, but rather than using LinkedIn I’d just email the friends and ask for an introduction. If I wanted to contact somebody else I’d just contact them through their blogs or company sites rather than searching for them on LinkedIn to see if there was a connection. Even if there was, I’d probably contact them directly rather than going through a two or three step process.
The only time I’ve been contacted by somebody on LinkedIn has been by friends asking if they could connect to one of my other friends. The weird thing is, most of the times these people already knew the person in quuestion, and undoubtedly had their email or could get it off their website.
Since SXSW there has been a new flurry of activity, with lots of cool people asking if I’d like to get connected. If you’re one of those people I apologize for not responding to you, but I’ve been considering unsubscribing from LinkedIn as I really just don’t see the point. However before I do unsubscribe, I was wondering if anybody has actually found any value in the service apart from generating a warm glow from how many cool people they know or how many steps away from Jeffrey Zeldman they are?
Tag, you're it! | April 11, 2006
As you’ll no doubt know, tags are essentially user supplied metadata. Tags are useful as a means of data recall, so you can tag your images as SXSWi and then a search on your images using that tag will bring back all the pics you took during the conference. However I find tags much more useful for data discovery, so by searching for the tag SXSWi on everybody’s photos, you’ll be able too see all the pictures taken at the event.
This is great in theory, but in practice tagging can very quickly become a chore. When you have one or two photos you want to tag, it only takes a minute or two to tag them. However when you take a lot of pictures like me, you start to get into scalability issues. If it takes you a minute to tag a photo and you’ve taken sixty photos, you end up spending an hour just adding meta data to your images. Not what you really want to be doing with your spare time.
I want to add descriptive data to my pictures so that other people can find them, but I often find that it’s just not practical, or enjoyable. One of the benefits of technology is its ability to reduce menial and repetitive tasks, but sometimes it has the oppressive effect, enslaving you instead. However I’ve always felt that a technological solution wouldn’t be far away.
When I was younger I remember seeing a science program where a University researcher created a program that could recognize famous landmarks. It used a database of images which it compared with the target picture in order to find a match. At the time it could only pick out a few major landmarks, and only if the picture was taken at exactly the right angle. However I remember thinking that it wouldn’t be long before the database got large enough to cover most major landmarks, and processors got fast enough that landmark or location recognition became common place.
Another thing I’ve been waiting for is geographically aware photography. With GPS receivers getting smaller, they can now be fitted inside a digital camera. Take a picture somewhere and the image can automatically be tagged with the longitude and latitude. Now if you were to combine this with a locations database you would know exactly where each of your photos was taken. Hooked this up with landmark recognition software and you could automatically identify and tag a large number of your pictures.
This may seem like science fiction, but Bath University have already done something pretty similar. You can take a picture of a location using a GSM phone, and because the phone is location aware it scans a database of local pictures and tries to find a match. I can’t wait for this kind of functionality to enter the consumer market.
So that covers location photography, but what about pictures of people? If you look at my SXSW photos, you’ll notice that most of them are pictures of friends and colleagues. It would be great to have these pictures automatic tagged with a location, but it would be even better if they could be tagged with the persons name as well. Well as it turns out, facial recognition software is actually fairly advanced and a recently launched service may have the solution to my tagging problem.
Riya is a photo service similar to flickr that allows you to upload, store and share you images. However it has one fairly major trick up its sleeve in the form of facial recognition software. When you upload your images you can tag them, and overtime the software in the uploader learns what your contacts look like and begins to tag them for you. I’ve not tried the service out yet as predictably it’s in beta, but if it does what it promises, one part of my tagging dilemma may be over sooner than I thought.
[Update:] Just found out that if you’re a Yahoo! US user you can sign up to ZoneTags and automatically geotag any pictures you take on your mobile phone. Cool.
Podcast Recommendations | April 9, 2006
I’ve been listening to more podcasts of late, mostly while traveling or at the gym. The two podcasts I listen to the most are Diggnation and Mark Kermode’s Film Reviews. I really like hearing Marks thoughts about the latest movies while Diggnation is very funny in a geek Animal House kind of way. I listened to the Ricky Gervais podcast a few times, but couldn’t quite manage to get into it. It was funny, but after a while it started to get a little repetitive. I occasionally listen to the Web 2.0 Show, although the quality of the audio bugs me, and This Week in Tech is worth dipping into every now and then. Apart from that, I mostly listed to event podcasts such as those from SXSW. There are bunch of other podcasts I’ve tried, but none have kept my attention for long.
I started using Odeo as a way of discovering new podcasts â€“ mostly by seeing what my friends were listening to. However I didn’t like the fact that you’d end up with one giant feed, so switched back to using the iTunes music store. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of the iTunes music store, as it doesn’t support my preferred browsing behavior, but it will have to do until I find something better.
In the meantime, I’d be interested in getting your recommendations and finding out what podcasts your listening to at the moment and why.
CSS Mastery Availability and Competition Update | April 7, 2006
If you’ve been waiting for your copy of CSS Mastery to arrive, I just wanted to give you a quick update on what’s going on. It appears that my publisher (bless their little cotton socks) seriously underestimated demand for the book and didn’t print enough copies. Consequently, the first print run sold out surprisingly quickly and caught them on the hop. They rushed out a second emergency print run, which reached stores a couple of weeks ago, and went some way to clearing the backlog of orders. So if you ordered your copy a while ago, it should hopefully get to you fairly soon.
There is another, much larger print run on the way and I’m confident this will sort out the current supply issues. However if you donâ€™t want to wait, you can now buy CSS Mastery as an eBook.
Because of the delays, I’ve decided to extend the CSS Mastery Photo Competition until Sunday the 16th April, to give you enough time to get your copy and start snapping. There are already some great pictures up there so picking a winner is going to be a tough call.
[Update] btw, if you do choose to buy the book from Amazon, please consider using my associate links. The commission you get from writing a book isn’t huge, so using the affiliate links makes a big difference.
Amazon Ranking Gone Mad | March 2, 2006
Now that can’t be right!
And the Winners are … | February 14, 2006
Firstly I’d like to thank everybody who entered my big book give-away. I was bowled over by the number of entries, and picking a winner from the plethora of smart, funny and sometime quite scary comments was extremely difficult. However after much deliberation the first FREE copy of CSS Mastery has to go to Chris, for his straightforward yet funny wobbly table leg comment. Sometimes the best gags are the simplest (and oldest)!
I want a copy of CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions because … My desk is all wobbly and I need something to help prop it up.
The second FREE copy goes to Simon for the following whimsical and inventive comment.
I want a copy of CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions because … my websites have more tables than a furniture shop, more fonts than the church of England, and more styles than a walk in the country.
The runner up, who unfortunately wins nothing but a warm cosy glow for being singled out, goes to Boppyer for this smart and amusing comment.
<TD>, or <TD>: that is the question:
Whether â€˜tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The <SPAN>â€™s and <TR>â€™s of outrageous fortune,
Or to take <DIV>â€™s against a sea of <TABLE>â€™s,
And by opposing end them?
And I think a special mention should go to Rhyddian Pugh for a very clever anagram. Props to you!
I want a copy of CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions because … <anagram>Bad and obsolescent code is a scary way - Iâ€™d want a fun, vast, super-css tome<anagram />
For all those who missed out on a FREE copy, I’ll be giving away a few freebies at SXSWi and @media 2006, or you could simply buy a copy from Amazon. If you grab a copy now, you’ll be in with a chance of wining an even better prize in the next couple of weeks. Keep you eyes glued to my RSS feed for details of this exciting new competition.
CSS Mastery Sample Chapter | January 29, 2006
My new book, CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions hits the shelves on the 13th of February. However you don’t need to wait that long to get a glimpse inside. Simply visit the new support site at www.cssmastery.com and you can download a sample chapter and table of contents absolutely free.
Four Things: The Madness Stops Here | January 25, 2006
I generally don’t like memes, but this one got passed to me by Steve and it would have been rude to say no!
Four jobs Iâ€™ve had in my life
- Doughnut filler
- Watch packer
- Comedy club house manager
- Shark Wrangler
To name but a few.
Four movies I can watch over and over
Four TV shows I love to watch
Four places I have lived
Four places I have been on holiday (in the last year and a half)
Four of my favourite dishes
Four websites I visit daily
And that’s about it at the moment. I’ve been so busy the last 6 months I’ve not had chance to keep track of my favorite sites. Definitely not on a daily basis anyway.
Four places I would rather be right now
- Hanging out on Manly beach in Sydney
- Diving off Bunaken on North Sulawesi
- Eating Pad Thai on Koh Phi-Phi
- Anywhere in the South Pacific
Four bloggers I am tagging
- The madness stops here
Removing iPod Nano Scratches - A Photo Essay | January 21, 2006
On the Cutting Room Floor | December 31, 2005
I keep a file on my desktop called “blog posts.rtf” where I jot down ideas for interesting posts. Each idea usually consists of a title and a couple of lines of text. Occasionally they can also contain a bullet list of points, links to resources and code samples. Theses are all ideas that, for one reason or another, I’ve just never got around to writing up.
Some of them are now defunct, such as bugs in Opera or Firefox that have been fixed, or topics that have been discussed on other sites. However many of them still have potential and may make it onto this site next year, assuming I have the time. Anyway, here is the list in chronological order (oldest first)
- Dive Tourism
- Communication vs Expectation
- Fixed vs Flexible
- Client Side vs Server Side Browser Filtering
- What’s in a Name?
- What do You Like and Dislike About This Site?
- IE Conditional Comments
- PNG Nightmares
- Typical Arguments Against Tableless Design
- Mac OS X Remote Access and VNC
- Mac OS X security
- MySQL SHOW STATUS
- RSS Feed Management
- Todo List Management
- Email Management
- Manage Milestones, Not Tasks
- Screenreader Support Charts
- What I Want From CSS3 - Part 2
- What I Want From CSS3 - Part 3
CSS Mastery - Coming Soon | December 13, 2005
As some of you may already know, I’ve spent the last 9 months writing my very first CSS book. Like most new authors, I think I heavily underestimated the shear amount of work that goes into writing a book. Consequently I’ve had little time for socialising, blogging or anything else for that matter. Luckily I’ve had some great help in putting this book together, most notably from Cameron Moll and Simon Collison for their fantastic case study chapters, and Molly Holzschlag for technical editing and general all-round support.
I’m pleased to say that as of Friday morning I sent my final chapter to production, so the book is now officially written. I got the pdf of my cover design back from the publishers this morning. I’ve made a few last minute tweaks, but essentially, if you see something that looks like this in bookstores on the 13th of February, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy.
To whet your interest, here is the blurb from the back cover.
This book is your indispensable guide to cutting-edge CSS developmentâ€”all you need to work your way up to being a CSS professional.
While CSS is a relatively simple technology to learn, it is a difficult one to master. When you first start developing sites using CSS, you will come across all kinds of infuriating browser bugs and inconsistencies. It sometimes feels like there are a million and one different techniques to master, spread across a bewildering array of websites. The range of possibilities seems endless and makes for a steep and daunting learning curve.
By bringing all of the latest tips, tricks, and techniques together in one handy reference, this book demystifies the secrets of CSS and makes the journey to CSS mastery as simple and painless as possible. While most books concentrate on basic skills, this one is different, assuming that you already know the basics, and why you should be using CSS in your work, and concentrating mainly on advanced techniques.
It begins with a brief recap of CSS fundamentals such as the importance of meaningful markup, how to structure and maintain your code, and how the CSS layout model really works.
With the basics out of the way, each subsequent chapter details a particular aspect of CSS-based design. Through a series of easy-to-follow tutorials, you will learn practical CSS techniques you can immediately start using in your daily work. Browser inconsistencies are the thorn in most CSS developers’ sides, so we have dedicated two whole chapters to CSS hacks, filters, and bug fixing, as well as looking at image replacement, professional link, form, and list styling, pure CSS layouts, and much more.
All of these techniques are then put into practice in two beautifully designed case studies, written by two of the worldâ€™s best CSS designers, Simon Collison and Cameron Moll.
Coming Soon to a bookstore near you!
Top 10 Albums I bought in 2005 | December 13, 2005
Unlike some people I know, I don’t spend a huge amount on music each year. However I thought 2004/2005 was a great year for music and I ended up buying a lot more albums than normal. Here are the top 10 albums I bought this year. They are all quite obvious and mainstream, but as it’s coming up to Christmas, I though it may give you some gift ideas.
- Employment by Kaiser Cheifs
- Silent Alarm by Bloc Party
- Tourist by Athlete
- The Bravery by The Bravery
- Hot Fuss by The Killers
- Some Cities by Doves
- Stars of CCTV by Hard-Fi
- Out of Nothing by Embrace
- Demon Days by Gorillaz
- Up All Night by Razorlight
What were your favourite albums of the year?
The Six Stages of Technological Acceptance | October 13, 2005
You would start off with denial, claiming that accessibility wasn’t an issue that you needed to be aware of. You would then move into anger, being annoyed that you were forced to do something you didn’t want to do. You would then start bargaining; “how about if I only reach single-A conformance?”. You would next hit depression, being frustrated about how difficult things were. And lastly, you would come to acceptance making accessibility part of your every day life.
I’ve been doing a lot of CSS training recently and one of the things I talk about is how web standards have started to hit the mainstream over the last 18 months. Many of the people who used to deny the usefulness of CSS or got angry about it have started to accept its relevance and even get enthusiastic about it. The very same people who would argue with me on mailing lists about how rubbish CSS was and how it would never take off, are now asking questions on CSS, building sites using CSS and even showing others how cool it is.
However I’ve been talking to a lot of people about Ajax and other Web 2.0 type topics in the run up to d.Construct and I’m experiencing a similar level of push-back as I experienced with CSS and web standards 3-4 years ago. People either seem to be blissfully unaware of what is going on, in denial (and that’s not a river in Egypt honey), angry about it, or really into it.
In the field of change management, there are three basic phases people go through. The first phase is called “unfreezing” whereby people start to break out of their existing mindset. This period involves breaking down barriers, overcoming defence mechanisms and finally realising that change is going to happen. The next stage is a time of uncertainty where the person knows that change is happening but doesn’t know how to deal with it. This stage is typified by anger, confusion and frustration. The third and final stage is freezing, whereby the new mindset is accepted and new patterns are built.
So this got me thinking and I came up with my own six stages of technological acceptance.
Blissful Ignorance - People seem to start in a state of blissful ignorance. They are not aware of what is going on around them and frankly don’t care.
Denial - People have heard about this new technology, but it’ll never take off and its not something they will ever need to know.
Anger - People don’t get why everybody else thinks the technology is interesting and they don’t, so they get angry.
Acceptance - Finally people come to the conclusion that if enough people think the technology is interesting, they better start learning about it or risk being left behind.
Understanding - The light-bulb goes on and people start to get why the new technology is so interesting.
Enthusiasm - People get good at the new ways of thinking and actually start getting other people interested in the technology.
Does these stages seem like an accurate description of the process people go though? Do they match the experiences you’ve had? Maybe with people on a mailing list or members of your own team?
More on Web Design Publications | September 24, 2005
A couple of weeks ago I bemoaned the lack of a good publication in the UK aimed at people in the interactive sector. While there are a lot of hobbyist magazines packed full of software reviews and “how to build a website for under Â£100” articles, there is very little aimed at the professional sector.
I guess Digit is probably the best Industry magazine around at the moment. While it does have its share of software reviews, you are more likely to see reviews of pro packages such as Softimage than hobbyist applications such as Freeway. It has a good good mix of news, articles and showcases, focused more towards the professional user. My main complaint is that the magazine has a big 3D bias, so you don’t often get that much web based info. However its worth a read on a Sunday morning if you happen to be in the coffee shop in Borders.
The other Industry magazine I occasionally read is Computer Arts. While it has its fare share of beginner tutorials, it does sometimes have interesting articles, interviews and portfolio pieces. However like Digit with its 3D bias, Computer Arts has a very strong Illustration and Photoshop Bias.
The magazine I most read is Mac User. Despite being a Mac magazine, it actually gives me a better overview of what is going on in the digital world than either of the previous magazines. The same is true of the Guardians excellent and recently re-branded technology supplement.
And it struck me, I don’t want a web design magazine at all, what I want is a good digital lifestyle and technology magazine. Magazines based on professions are always too niche and never really get the balance right. Sure web designers want to know about the latest software or techniques, but that’s not all they want to read about.
I want to read about the latest gadgets like the release of the iPod nano, about new technologies such as WiMax and about how industry is using blogging in new and interesting ways. I want to read interviews with people from flickr and google and articles about top web design and development teams. I want to read about the latest computer games, virtual currency and how some have a higher GDP than Singapore. I want to read reviews of the conferences and hear peoples thoughts on web 2.0. I’d like to see reviews of new sites, weblogs and podcasts as well as books and software.
Basically what I want is a professional and well written version of a blog, preferably in paper format. A periodical that covers all the week or months top digital lifestyle and tech stories in an intelligent and well written fashion.
Why not just read blogs? Well to be honest I do, but with around 1000 unread posts in my RSS reader, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find the time. What I’d like is a group of professional writers with the time that only a commercial enterprise can give, to filter all this information and provide me with only the information I really need to know. Being a commercial operation they would have more time than the average blogger so could report from conferences, visit design firms and interview interesting people. More time could be spent on crafting and researching articles, taking to the people that matter, rather than shooting off a quick blog post in 10 minutes of dead space. Also sometimes its just nicer to sit down with a cup of tea, away from your computer and read a nicely designed piece of print.
Traditional media probably aren’t going to do this, so maybe it is time for a group of talented bloggers to move from personal publishing to professional publishing. A few bloggers like Ben Hammersley have made the jump and the world of tech journalism is much better for it.
Introducing Clearleft | September 21, 2005
It has been a long time coming, but today I’m pleased to announce the launch of my new company website, clearleft.com.
Clearleft is a web design consultancy founded in Brighton, England by myself, Jeremy Keith and Richard Rutter. All having very similar interests and outlooks, we decided that it was time to pool our resources and start working on the kinds of projects we wanted to work on.
We have been hinting at the existence of Clearleft for a while now. The logo made its first public appearance on me and Jeremy’s SXSW05 slides six months ago, albeit without the company name and tag line.
The company itself was soft launched during @media 2005. We didn’t want to make a huge song and dance about our launch, preferring simply to introduce ourselves as Clearleft directors, and adding a link to our holding page on our slides.
We did however hand out a number of our newly printed (ink still wet) business cards, which got a very favourable response. Mostly as it gave people something to read on the train home.
We started building our company site several months ago, however what with client work and book writing commitments, the site has taken a while to perfect. The design actually came about very quickly, but honing the content took the time.
The site is very much in the first stage of development. I actually wanted to add a permanent beta tag to the logo like so many other sites,. However Rich and Jeremy wisely vetoed the idea. Once things have settled down we will be adding case studies, articles, press releases and a new blog.
In the meantime, I’d like to invite you all over to check out our new home. We’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to wander around, check inside the cupboards and let us know what you think of the decor. Just remember to wipe your feet on the way in.
If you like what you see and want to work with us, please feel free to get in touch.
Entering the digital age | August 1, 2005
Despite being into my gadgets I’m actually a bit of a late adopter. I held out for ages before buying my first mobile phone, got my first DVD player last year and only recently bought myself an iPod. Being interested in photography, most people assume I use a digital camera. However I don’t own a functioning digital camera, and do most of my photography using slide film and an SLR.
However I’ve always appreciated the freedom that shooting digital gives. You don’t have to worry about wasting film, so you can shoot as many experimental pictures as you want, deleting the ones you don’t need. You don’t have to wait for a week to get your slides processed, only to spend a day scanning them all in. So while you may lose some of the “craft”, you gain the benefit of immidiacy.
The other issue is bulk factor. Due to the size of my SLR, I tend not to take it with me unless I know I’m going to be taking “proper” pictures. As such, I tend not to take the type of “people pics” most people take. I also miss out on the kind of opportunistic shots you only get if you have a camera handy at all times.
I’ve been meaning to get an ultra-compact digital camera for a while now, but the recent Geekend in the Cotswolds sealed the deal. Drew had his IXUS50 with him, and I was very impressed. It was the perfect size, produced some great pics, and look the business.
So today I decided to join the digital photography revolution and bought myself a Canon Digital IXUS50 . I haven’t had much chance to play with it yet, but I did take a few pics while having Sunday lunch. And the upshot it, I can now start making use of my flickr account. Hopefully the dozen or so people who have been subscribed to my non-exhistant flickr feed for the last 6 months should be happy.
Live 8 Funometer | June 22, 2005
So I’m going to Live8 and I have to say that I’m really excited. The lineup is fantastic and I’m most looking forward to seeing Coldplay, The Killers, Snow Patrol and the partially reformed Pink Floyd. Looks set to be one hell of an event.
My Thoughts About @media2005 | June 13, 2005
[UPDATE] - View my @media 2005 presentation online.
So @media 2005 was a resounding success. The venue was fantastic. By far the nicest venue I’ve spoken at. The screen was huge, the sound was good and the tiered seating meant you could see everybody and everybody could see you. Patrick had done a wonderful job of dressing the theatre, with huge @media banners and lighting effects. Every delegate got a handy laptop bag a slick looking program outlining the events to come.
As the first day went by, it became obvious that the level of knowledge in the room far exceeded our expectations. At Web Essentials 04 the organizers expected the conference to be made up of CSS experts and web professionals. However the actual attendees were largely from publicly funded organizations looking to make the switch to web standards. As such I kind of expected @media would be the same. How wrong I was.
The penny dropped for me when, at the start of my talk I asked how many people were using tables for layout, how many were using hybrids layouts and how many were using using pure CSS. I’d expected a fairly even mix. As it turned out only one person said they were still using table based layouts and a handful were using hybrids. Everybody else already knew how to layout a page using CSS, rendering my “Making the Break to Tableless Design” talk fairly redundant. Still I soldered on and while most people said they didn’t learn anything new from my talk, several had the heart to say it at least helped then validate their methods.
Rather than being a conference to spread the word of web standards, it seemed the word was already out there and doing just fine. With a better understanding of the audience I’m sure things will be taken up a notch next year. I for one already have some good ideas for my next presentation.
Like most conferences, the social aspect played a very huge part. It was great to meet up again with all the speakers again as well as distant friends. However it was equally great meeting up with new people and talking about everything from hard core web design to working as a chef in a Chinese restaurant (not me btw). I’d love to name check everybody I met but wouldn’t be enough room on the page. However it was great meeting up with you all. It’s you guys that make these events so much fun.
I soft launched a new project at the conference (more on that later), so spent a good deal of time swapping and comparing business cards.
Another project I’m excited about are the @media Master Class events we’ll be running next month. A number of the @media speakers including myself, will be running a series of small training sessions for those of you who’ve been enthused by the event and want to learn more.
If you’re still wondering what the WordPl@y posts were about, we weren’t doing anything clever with Google or trying too drive traffic to our sites. The night before the conference we each wrote down a word and then everybody had to pick one from a hat. We then had to work that word into our talk. We posted the words to our blogs in the hope that some of the audience would pick up on this and share the joke, which several did. I’ve done this before at pitches as it ensures all your team are paying attention and not daydreaming. It’s also a pretty good way of alleviating some of the stress of public speaking and making it a little more fun for all involved.
Lots of people have been blogging about @media and there are pictures aplenty on flickr. However if you don’t have a blog and would like too share your impressions here, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Word Pl@y | June 8, 2005
London Geek Dinner | June 7, 2005
I’ve just got back from the London Geek Dinner at The Texas Embassy and had a thoroughly good time. I got to London pretty early so was one of the first people to arrive. Grabbing a margarita from the bar I introduced myself to Hugh MacLeod and we chatted for a while about blogging, RSS feed anxiety and suits. I have to admit that I hadn’t really come across Hugh before but he seemed like a thoroughly interesting chap.
The room slowly started to fill up as more and more people arrived. Simon turned up followed by Jeremy and Richard. I briefly said hi to Robert Scoble although I wasn’t sure if he remembered meeting at SXSW or if he was just being polite.
I was sat opposite a couple of guys from the BBC, and overheard one of them say “Andy Budd is supposed to be here tonight”. It turned out to be none other than superstar blogger Tom Coates. I’ve been wanting to meet Tom for ages but have never managed to pin him down. As such, it was great to finally put a face to a blog.
I spent quite a while chatting to Paul Hammond from the BBC and Francois Jordaan from wheel, both of whom convinced me that I need to get to more events in London. There seem to be a lot of design, IA and techie events going on in the capitol, however not being part of the London web design scene I usually only find out about them the day after they’ve finished.
I was having a great time chatting to people and would have loved to have stayed longer, however me, Jeremy and Richard had to leave early to get the last fast train back to Brighton. Still it was an excellent night and a good start to a very hectic week. Next stop @media 2005. Hope to see a few of you there.
Coming Soon | June 1, 2005
There are quite a few interesting books about to hit the shelves. Here are a few of my top picks.
- Bulletproof Web Design: Creating Flexibility with XHTML and CSS by Dan Cederholm
- CSS Hands on Training by Eric Meyer
Democracy | May 31, 2005
As some of you may have noticed, we recently had an election in the UK. However it was nowhere near as big a deal as the recent elections in the US, primarily because the outcome was a foregone conclusion. However I wanted to have my say and exercise my “democratic” right to vote
I’d recently moved house so as soon as the election was announced I went down to the town hall to register my change of address. With four weeks until the election I didn’t think there would be a problem. Surely the point of announcing an election is to allow people to register or update their details. Especially as there was a big campaign encouraging people to vote going on.
The elections came and went without word from the electoral services officer. I assumed their office had been rammed with applicants and they were just too busy to process my details. However I was pretty angry that I’d been denied my right to vote so sent them a letter of complaint. As it turns out it wasn’t the volume of applicants that prevented me from having my vote, it was pure bureaucracy. By the time the election was called it was already too late to change my details. In fact I needed to send in my application about a month before the election was even announced!
Unfortunately this wasn’t mentioned on the websites I downloaded the application form from. In fact it said that there should be enough time for the change to take effect. Apparently changes are underway to allow registration 11 days before the poll. However I’m still annoyed that I was denied my right to vote for no other reason than bureaucratic red tape.
Google Maps UK and Google Local UK | April 19, 2005
A couple of months ago, Google released their excellent mapping service called Google Maps. The service impressed many with a slick interface that allowed people to literally drag the maps around. This may sound like eye candy but it actually has very practical uses.
Last Friday I went up to London to see various people and tried to use multimap and streetmap to plan my trip. When I typed in my destination I was presented with a small map showing my destination in the centre. What I wanted to do was move my location to the very edge of the map so I could see if there were any nearby tube stops. However pressing left or right either moved the destination a little off centre, or completely off the map. At the time I remember thinking how great it would be if I could simply drag the maps around like Google maps, so I could quickly see if there was a tube stop near by.
Unfortunately Google Maps was only released in the US and many people, including myself, assumed it would take forever to launch in the UK. I believed this partly because of the track record of another of Googles geographic service, Google Local. This is an excellent service that provides local search results in the US. You type in what your looking for along with a location and Google will try to find relevant search results in your area. This service was launched in the States ages ago and hadn’t made it to the UK. If that hadn’t launched yet, the chance of Google Maps making it to the UK any time soon looked slim.
How wrong could I be. Today I learned that both Google Maps UK and Google Local UK have just been launched. First impressions of both services were very good. The maps look as slick as their US versions and the interface just as responsive. The direction finder drew the right directions on the map for everywhere I tried, and navigating around London was a doddle. A local search on Thai, bought up all the Thai restaurants near my house. A local search on my name bought up my old employers site, Message, along with some other, slightly odder results.
Once Google Maps catches on in the UK, I think sites like multimap and streetmap are going to find them selves in difficult times. They have sat on their dominant positions for a long time and a much bigger company has just pulled the rug from under their feet. These mapping companies make most of their money from selling their services to industry, so they will be fine for now. However it probably won’t be long before Google start selling their mapping services to industry as they currently do with their search technology. Will this be a wake-up call to other mapping companies, or will the go the same way as those who tried to compete with Google in the search market?
Adobe to Buy Macromedia | April 18, 2005
So I got an iChat message from Veerle this morning telling me that she had some big news and suggesting I have a look at her site. Thinking that she’d either won the lottery or been chosen for the biggest redesign job ever, I went to have a look. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the news.
It would seem that Macromedia is being sold to Adobe. Now I really didn’t see that coming. The acquisition brings into question the future a whole host of application. Will Adobe ditch GoLive in favour of the more successful Dreamweaver? Maybe they’ll go the other way? Will they retire the excellent Fireworks and stick with the decidedly inferior ImageReady? And what about Freehand vs Illustrator? Maybe they will roll the applications together so we’ll end up with Adobe Dreamweaver Creative Suite MX 2004. Wouldn’t that be fun.
I'm Not Spamming You, Honest! | April 9, 2005
If you’re visiting this site because you’ve been sent some spam that appears to come from this domain, I’m afraid the we’ve both been had. Some lovely person has decided to “spoof” my email address and send out tens of thousands of spam emails pretending to come from me. Unfortunately, because it’s so easy to forge email headers, there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this.
I’ve now become the victim of what’s technically known as a Joe Job. In the last 10 minutes I’ve had around 200 bounced emails get through my own spam filtering. Another 200 the 10 minutes before that. I’d hate to think how many are actually hitting the server, but I imagine it’ll be quite a lot.
If you’ve received one of these spam emails, it may be worth reporting the server they are coming from. To do this you’ll need to select “Show Full Email Headers” in your mail program, copy out the spam email and paste it into the SpamCop website. SpamCop will interrogate these headers, attempt to deduce who owns the IP address the spam is coming from and provide you with the email address you should report the abuse to. Send the spam you received, including the full headers, to this address along with a message that reads something like this.
“I am receiving spoofed messages from the server addressed in the headers of this email. Please shut down this server immediately, or close the relays on the box. You are hosting a machine that is spamming and may be held liable if you refuse to correct this issue.”
The spammer is probably exploiting a hole in this server and the company running it will want to know about this and shut down the hole as soon as possible.
SXSW - Final Day | March 21, 2005
Note - I wrote this the following morning sat at Newark Airport, but havenâ€™t had chance to post it till now
After my first full nights sleep since getting here, I headed off to the Austin convention center for a talk on Typography by Joshua Darded, Mike Davidson and Shaun Inman. Web designers coming from a print background tend to have much more typographic experience than pure web designers like myself. As such I’m always keen to learn more about type, so was really looking forward to this panel. I’m glad to say the panel didn’t disappoint.
It was obvious from the outset that Mike and Joshua were very experienced public speakers, as both had a really warm, relaxed and natural tone. Joshua introduced the subject of typography and demonstrated a great technique for assessing legibility by blurring the text. Joshua was obviously extremely knowledgeable and passionate about typography and I’d love too see him to a full hour presentation some time. Mike discussed typography from a more general web design perspective and touched upon Flash replacement. Shaun started off a bit more nervously but quickly got into the flow of things and gave an excellent talk about practical typographic implementation on the web. All in all this was a great talk and definitely one of my favorite from the conference.
After that there really weren’t any other talks I fancied attending. Rather than hanging around, quite a large group of us went for food at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. It was still pretty early and I wasn’t particularly hungry. However the food took ages to come and by the time it arrived I was suitably famished. I ended up having a really good talk with Doug and Dave about consulting, freelancing and talking at conferences.
Back at the conference center we went to Bruce Sterling’s keynote. I wasn’t enjoying it that much but by the power of Rendezvous iChat, found out that the Accessibility shootout was looking more promising. We headed over and managed to catch the last half before assembling another posse and heading over the road for coffee at the Hilton. After a good wind down natter and lots of photo taking we all headed back to our hotels to dump our stuff before making our way to the Bitter End for dinner. I spent quite a bit of time teaching Shaun and Leslie British slang. By the end of it both of them had the British accent pretty well sussed and even started to pick up on our accents unintentionally. There was an local AIG meet-up next door and we’d all put our names in a hat to win a book. It seemed that luck was on our side as first Rob was called in, then myself, Shaun and finally Andy Clark. I ended up getting a copy of Web Redesign Workflow that Works 2.0 which was great as I was seriously thinking of buying the updated version only hours before.
After dinner we headed off on mass to Bruce Sterling’s SXSW closing party. It was held in this palatial building which was apparently the American Legion. The party was great, but it was a real shame that it finished at 11pm. Luckily Dunstan had heard of another party so we all headed off there. Me and Dunstan ended up buying 6 or 7 six packs of beer for the party, and packed the already well stocked fridge when we arrived. However 30 minutes later all the beer was gone so we jumped into a cab and shot into town. Me, Shaun, Leslie and Ethan managed to grab last orders at a bar on 6th holding some kind of SXSW film party before heading back to the hotel for the evening. After chatting for an hour or so, everybody crashed. It was about half three by this time and having to catch a six forty five flight to New York, I decided there was no point in sleeping. So I packed up my stuff and headed of to the Airport about an hour later to catch my flight to NYC.
Bye Austin, see you next year.
SXSW - Day 4 | March 21, 2005
Note - I wrote this the following morning but haven’t had chance to post it till now
Another fun day at SXSW. The first panel I attended was Does Design Matter with Jeffrey Zeldman, Jason Maria, Joe Clark and Kelly Goto. It was a very interesting and lively debate, with lots of feedback from Joe Clark. I wasn’t expecting this talk to be funny, but at one point Jeffrey bought up Virtual Stan while Jason “Stan” Santa Maria was talking, causing my side of the room to attempt â€“ unsuccessfully â€“to stifle their giggles.
Staying in the same room the next talk was How to Inform Design. I really enjoyed this talk, primarily because Jeffrey Veen is such an accomplished speaker. I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey’s work and especially his book, The Art and Science of Web Design. While It’s now a good few years old, It’s still as relevant today as it was when it was published.
We then headed over to the bloggies in the hope that Jon Hicks would scoop best British blog. Unfortunately Tom Coates cleaned up again, but that’s understandable considering his huge reader base. I was quite looking forward to the bloggies, but they actually turned out to be quite an amateurish affair, so I was glad when they finished. Everybody headed off for BBQ but being a veggie it didn’t really appeal. Instead I grabbed a bit to eat on my own then hung out with Andy Clarke till the next session.
Design Eye for the Information Guy was the big hit of the day for me. Andrei organized an excellent session based on the Design Eye posts on his site. Utilizing the talents of Keith Robinson, Cameron Moll, Ryan Sims and Paul Nixon, the panel walked us through the process they used to makeover Dirk Kynmer’s website. Unlike some of the panel sessions I’ve been to, there was a great dynamic between the panelists and it really felt they were enjoying giving their talk. It was especially interesting seeing how each person tackled their part of the project and how it all fitted together. Of course it helped that they ended up producing a fantastic looking design. The concept of this panel was great and I fully expect to see more “Design Eye” talks at future events.
That was basically it for the day. A large group of us headed over to the Hilton for dinner. However it was pretty pricey and not very good for vegetarians, so me and Ian Lloyd did a runner and walked up to 20/2. For those of you not familiar with 20/2 (which included me up until yesterday) the idea is that 20 people will get up on stage and perform for 2 minutes on a pre decided subject. This years subject was “What’s the word” and people did a variety of things from poetry and prose to music and multi media presentations. Pretty much all of the acts were good, although one of the funniest in my book was Shaun Inman’s name dropping song about catching up on his RSS feeds.
It happened to be Nick Finck’s birthday bash so we all jumped into taxi’s and headed to 6th street. Derek, Rob, Stan and myself were all hungry so went to grab a bite to eat before hand. The idea was to get takeaway but we couldn’t find anything so ended up in PF Chang’s. We had a great meal and this was one of the first opportunities I had to have a proper chat with people, one that lasted more than 5 minutes before getting interrupted or side tracked. It was midnight by the time we finished, and feeling pretty shattered we all decided to call it an early night. It’s a shame as Nicks party sounded great but I don’t think I could have handled another late night.
SXSW - Day 3 | March 14, 2005
It was a big day of talks today, starting with Eric’s emergent semantics talk. I wasn’t initially planning to go to this talk, thinking that there probably wasn’t anything I could learn about the subject. How wrong could I be? Eric talked about the emergence of MicroFormats and really got me thinking about how extensible XHTML can actually be. In the afternoon, Tantek’s presentation entitled The Elements of Meaningful XHTML built on Eric’s talk by dissecting various microformats such as nCalendars and VoteLinks. The combined talks were really inspiring and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few new microformats come out of this conference.
The Hi-Fi design panel was very interesting and it was great to see so many excellent designers in one place. It was almost like a presentation design shootout, with each speaker competing for the best looking presentation template. Dave Shea would probably get my prize for the most creative execution, using Jeremy’s slideshow script to animate each slide.
The evening took the usual path of drinking, meeting up with cool people, eating, and more drinking. Definitely going to need a holiday after this.
SXSW - Day 2 | March 14, 2005
Despite going to sleep at around 2am, I woke up again at 6am on the dot. Damn jet lag! After a leisurely breakfast we headed out to watch the kickball game. The game was vaguely entertaining but the funniest thing was Paul Scrivens doing a victory dance when he scored a run. I’d have loved to have gotten an MPEG of that!
I ended up chatting to this local journalist who said that 3,500 people had bought tickets to the Interactive section of SXSW. I’d assumed that most of the people registering were there for the film track, but it seems like the interactive track is going to very big this year. I finally met up with Dave Shea and Cameron Moll, both of whom were really cool.
Our talk was later that day so me and Jeremy decided to cruise by the room to check it out. Happy that we knew where we were going, Jeremy, Rich, Ian and myself went to grab some lunch. After some more great Texan cooking we headed off to Jeffrey’s keynote speech which was packed. Jeffrey was very entertaining and his tone really helped set the scene for our talk.
After the keynote me and Jeremy headed off to the green room. I have to admit that having to wait around in the green room for 45min before speaking did more to make me nervous than anything else. I decided to go for a quick walk and poked my nose into our room. It was a good half hour before our talk, but the room was already filling up. This was a sign of things to come as by the time our talk started, the room was full. People were standing at the back and sitting on the floor, and they even stopped people coming in. I even found out later that Jeffrey tried to get in but it was too full!
The talk we had prepared was entitled How to Bluff Your Way in CSS and was very tongue in cheek. The idea was to show people where they needed to go and what they needed to do to learn CSS. However rather than just listing out a bunch of dry resources we wanted to have a little fun with the topic. So we talked about all this stuff under the pretext that it would help people pretend to be CSS experts. We also wanted to poke a bit of fun at ourselves and the web standards community as a whole, as we do tend to take ourselves a little seriously.
We were a bit concerned that people wouldn’t get the joke and think we were idiots. However after five or ten minutes people realized that we weren’t being serious and got into the whole thing. As people started enjoying the talk I really relaxed into things and started having fun. Quite a few people came up to us afterwards to say they enjoyed the talk, which was great. All in all it was an excellent experience and all the hard work was worth the while.
I ran off to Jason Fried’s talk about small team development. The basic theme of the talk seemed to be that it was better to start building as soon as possible rather than wasting time on planning and documenting. Jason rightly pointed out that many clients don’t read, don’t understand or misinterpret specs. It’s only when they get a chance to see something working that they really know if that’s what they wanted or not. Jason suggested that an iterative process comprising of lots of small steps was the best way to solve this problem.
While I could identify with most of the issues Jason talked about, it did seem that he was advocating trial and error over intelligent design. His approach would really decrease the initial overhead and speed time-to-market. However if a fundamental problem crept in at the start of the process, it could result in a large part of the project needing to be redesigned or recoded. Jason did push the point that the application should be as simple as possible, which would minimize the overhead of change. However that could still mean quite a bit of reprogramming depending on the site.
After the conference I headed down to the CSS-Discuss meet-up at Buffalo Billiards before having dinner with a bunch of cool people at the Iron Cactus. We spent ages having dinner so managed to miss the opening party. However we did get to the after party where I finally got chance to say hi to Jeffrey which was cool.
SXSW Day 1 | March 12, 2005
Or maybe this should be day zero as today was registration day and the festival proper doesn’t start till tomorrow. Despite being knackered, I work up at 6am on the dot and couldn’t get back to sleep. Coming down for breakfast I sat outside in the morning heat and wrote up the previous days adventures. Once the others were up and suitiblty fed and watered, we went for a morning stroll around downtown Austin and then down to the lake.
Austin seems like a very cool and friendly place. However despite being twice the size of Brighton, the downtown area feels extremely quiet. Walking around town, there was hardly anybody around. There were bars and restaurants aplenty but I couldn’t quite figure out where people bought stuff. In Brighton there is a shop on every street corner and I was expecting 6th street to be full of shops as well as bars. However apart from the odd drug store and tattoo parlor, the shopping opportunities were conspicuous in their absence.
The lake area was nice and peaceful. People were rowing on the lake, riding their bikes and jogging. After strolling around for a couple of hours we headed off to a coffee shop by the convention center to meet up with Dunstan. Dunstan was having coffe with Molly Holzschlag and Tantek Çelik amongst other people and this was our first of many introductions of the day.
After tea and a chat our enlarged party headed off to register. Getting into the convention centre and seeing everybody milling around suddenly bought home the fact that I was going to be speaking in front of some of these people the following day. Blimey!
Jon Hicks and Andy Clarke finally showed up after having various travel dramas, and our steadily increasing party headed off to grab some lunch. Tantek lead us to a local Mexican restaurant, although at one point I wondered where the hell we were going as we were walking right through the kitchen. The food was good and we spent the majority of lunch teaching our American hosts British slang and trying to explain our compulsion for not making a fuss.
Back to the convention center we met a bunch more people and then checked out where we would be speaking the following day. After more coffee and chatting we decided to head back to the hotel to test our talk out on Rich, Andy and Jon who probably wouldn’t be making it to the real thing.
With that out of the way it was time to grab some food. Along with Ethan, we hit 4th street and ended up in a micro brewery and restaurant called The Bitter End. After much eating and drinking it was time to do some socializing, so Jeremy suggested going to Break bread with Brad which is apparently the tradition pre SXSW.
The place was packed and everywhere I looked there were well known web celebrities. We were joined by two more Brit Packers, Ian Lloyd and Simon Willison almost completing the scheduled British invasion. I chatted to lots of cool people although I’m gonna avoid the temptation to name drop as it could get very tedious very quickly. I successfully managed to talk myself horse, something I’m really going to regret in my talk the following day. Despite my good intentions, we ended up leaving pretty late and didn’t crash till gone 2am. So that’s me gonna be well prepared for my first SXSW talk!
SXSW â€“ Day 0 | March 11, 2005
Yesterday was a pretty long and tiring day all told. I got up at 6am, meeting Jeremy and Richard at the station. A short train ride later and we were deposited at Gatwick airport. After the usual check-in rigmarole we hooked up with our other traveling companion of the day â€“ Dunstan and caught our transatlantic flight to Houston. The flight went pretty smoothly. I watched The Incredibles, caught up with a bit of work and even managed to get a couple of hours of sleep. About 15 hours later we arrived in Austin to be greeted by a beautiful sunny Texan afternoon.
The Taxi ride to the hotel was possibly one of the most entertaining cab rides I’ve ever had, and a real introduction to Texan hospitality. The cab driver was my stereotypical image of a Texan â€“ honest, friendly and with an authentic southern drawl. During the Cab ride we chatted about Texas BBQ, The Rodeo, Horse Riding, Texas BBQ, SXSW, Bush and oh, Texas BBQ.
Getting to the Hotel we immediately hooked up with Dunstan’s room mate â€“ Ethan and headed to the lounge for free beer. After knocking back a couple of cold ones we wandered along 6th street and ended up at the Iron Cactus for Frozen Margaritas and Tex Mex food. After a meal fit for three, we ran over the road for another beer at Maggie Mae’s before moving onto Buffalo Billiards for more beer and table football. As the jet lag started to kick in, we hit 4th street, and our last stop for the evening, Halcyon Coffeehouse.
Halcyon is a really nice coffeehouse-come-bar dripping in WiFi, and the kind of place Brighton really needs. I’d been having connectivity problems all evening so lightly drunk and bleary eyed, we had an impromptu hardware hacking session which prompted Ethan to describe us as the special needs A-Team. After this many beers back home I’d be well and truly hammered. Luckily American beer is like making love in a canoe, so I wasn’t feeling too worse for ware.
With the jet lag firmly washing over us, it was time to head back to the hotel for some well deserved rest. Jeremy was in charge of booking the accommodation and I was under the impression we were getting a twin room with an extra bed. However it turned out that the twin rooms wouldn’t fit an extra bed so I drew the short straw and crashed on the floor! Luckily, having been awake now for 24hrs it wasn’t too difficult to get to sleep.
Life is About to Get a Lot More Random | March 1, 2005
I’ve really enjoyed working with Message over the last 5 years. Working for a small agency means that you’re intimately involved with every aspect of a project, from the initial pitch to the final roll out. Rather than being another cog in the machine, you’re a valued member of the team and have the ability to shape every project you work on.
However the downside is that you develop a broad but shallow set of Skills. You’ll be a visual designer in the morning and a front end developer in the afternoon. One day you’ll be running a usability test, the next you’ll be making the tea. You get to experience lots of things but rarely get chance to focus on one thing for long. This tends to make you a bit schizophrenic and I still have problems defining exactly what my job is (saving that one for a future post).
Working with the same company for so long, you start to take things for granted. Over the last 5 years I’ve helped develop the way Message do business and manage projects. Projects get completed on time and on budget, clients are happy, as are users. However it’s difficult to gauge what’s good and what’s bad about your process without seeing how other companies tackle the same problems.
Over the last year I’ve been finding it really difficult to keep on top of all my personal projects like running SkillSwap and publishing this site. I’ll come home from a hard days work, and have to start all over again. At times It’s like having a second (and third and fourth) job, except this one doesn’t pay. I’ve been wanting to redesign this site for over a year now and have a folder on my desktop that contains 27 things to blog about, yet I never manage to find the time. There have been at least two really cool personal projects I missed out on doing just for the lack of time.
So I’ve decided it’s time for pastures new. I handed my notice in at the beginning of February and start work as a freelancer when I get back from SXSW at the end of March.
I’ve not got anything lined up yet, but I’m hoping to spend part of my time working as an on-site contractor for other new media companies. I’m really keen to experience working for different agencies to see how they do things differently. Also â€“ after having worked in the same small company for so long â€“ I’m looking forward to meeting and working with new people.
I’m also looking to build up my own list of private clients. Either other web design firms needing to outsource user experience design and front end development work, or direct clients requiring more general web design services.
I’ve no idea how this is all going to pan out. Part of me is really excited about the possibility of working for myself while another part is slightly more apprehensive.
If you work for a company looking for a freelance user experience designer or front end developer, or if you know of somebody who is, I’d love to hear from you.
SXSW 2005 is Getting Close | February 27, 2005
So SXSW 2005 is only a couple of weeks away and I’m really looking forward to it. Jeremy Keith popped round this afternoon and we quickly ran through our draft talk. I’m sure most of the speakers will be writing their talks on the flight over, but I’m a little too organised (anal) for that.
In the SXSW mood, I spent the rest of the afternoon going over the SXSW site and organising what sessions and events I want to attend. I’ve posted my iCal Calendar online and you can also subscribe to it if you’d like. This is probably only of interest to a handful of people, but what the heck, it’s my site!
I’ve not been to SXSW before, but luckily Ian Lloyd gave me the low-down on our recent Geekend in London. However If you’ve been to Austin before and especially if you’ve been to SXSW before, I’d love to hear your top tips for making the most of my time there. Also, If you’re going this year which talks are you most looking forward to attending and who are you looking forward to meeting up with?
PHP Workshop | February 21, 2005
Saturdays PHP workshop in London was lots of fun. Getting there was a hassle as the trains were out part of the way, necessitating a long and uncomfortable replacement bus service. However I still managed to get there in enough time to grab breakfast at traditional Italian coffee shop just around the corner.
The workshop was held in Oyster Partners largeâ€“and somewhat college likeâ€“canteen area. Working for a “boutique” web design agency, it’s easy to assume that most companies are small. However despite the fact that 70% of web design companies in the UK have less than 10 staff members, a number of large agencies did survive the dot com era.
While I know the basics of PHP and understand many of the more advanced concepts, I’m no PHP expert. I liken myself to somebody learning a language in the sense that I can understand far more than I can actually say. I can look at a class and pretty much understand how it works. However ask me to build something similar from scratch and I’d be lost.
The main problem I have with PHP is how to actually string things together. I can build simple application, but they always end up being a little haphazard. The code is never as lean as I want it to be and my file structure is always a little random. So I’m constantly dissatisfied with my coding. Going back to the language analogy, I’m capable of ordering food and finding my way to the station, but if I tried to write a book it would be all over the place.
My dissatisfaction is down to a couple of things. Firstly I’m a perfectionist and want to do everything the best way possible. On it’s own this is laudable. However I’m also fairly impatient, so want to be getting everything right first time. I’m capable of figuring out most logical problems. However it’s the conceptual onesâ€“like the most efficient way to architect your applicationâ€“ that can only be learnt over time. So one of the main things I wanted to get from this workshop was a better understanding of the more conceptual elements of PHP programming.
The workshop was essentially divided into two parts. The first part was lead by Chris Lea, who did an excellent job in walking through the basic concepts of PHP application development. I have to admit that I actually new most of this stuffâ€“which came as a bit of a surpriseâ€“but it’s always good to have your beliefs validated by an expert.
The second part of the day was lead by Mike Buzzard, who created a simple PHP framework and tempting engine especially for the workshop. This part of the talk got a little bogged down in the framework specifics for my liking. However what really got me was the usefulness of having a framework in placeâ€“ be it your own or one of many existing ones.
I realise that I’m never going to be a hard core PHP guru which is why I’ve recently been wondering if I’d be more productive using another language. This was prompted by seeing a demo of Ruby on Rails
However I now think the best approach (for me) would be to make use of various PHP projects such as PEAR and Smarty along with a simple framework. I understand the associated problems and restrictions, but in my defence I’m a front end designer/developer who needs to do the odd bit of coding, rather than somebody wanting to become a hard core programmer. I just don’t have the patience for that!
So on the whole I found the workshop useful from a conceptual level as it helped me solidify how I feel about PHP.
Afterwards everybody headed down the pub for drinks and a chat. Both Chris and Mike looked shattered from the day and the jet lag, and it was unfortunate that I didn’t get much of a chance to chat to them. However I did meet up with some cool people, including 2 people from Brighton and two people who read my blog. Apart from the learning angle, the other important part of these events is the social angle. so it was great to meet, chat and share war stories with other developers.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Last Call for BlogAid Support | February 1, 2005
So the month is over and very soon I’ll be emailing everybody who pledged their site earning to BlogAid to ask how their fundraising went and to thank them for their support. However there still is time to get involved and pledge your site earnings retrospectively. So if you’d like to help the Tsumani relief efforts by retrospectively pledging your site earnings for the month of January, please visit the BlogAid pledge page and register your support.
Top 5 Purchases of 2004 | January 17, 2005
I’m not a very materialistic person, spending most of my savings on holidays and adventures rather than the latest gadgets and gizmos. However this year I seem to have bought an unusual amount of stuff. At least that’s what my bank balance was telling me at the end of the year. Here are my top 5 favourite purchases of this year. Why not worship at the alter of consumerism with me and share your best buys of 2004 and what you’re looking forward to getting your hands on in 2005.
- AirPort Express â€“ The purchase of which finally ushered me into the WiFi age.
- iMac G5 â€“ Despite my protestations over the form factor, I’m thoroughly happy with my new Mac.
- iBook â€“ While not strictly my purchase I did donate some money in order to stop my girlfriend buying a PC. Loverly little machine.
- Rockhopper â€“ I started getting into Mountain Biking and ditched my old, crappy bike for a loverly new one.
- K700i Finally got myself a descent mobile phone.
SXSW Interactive and @media 2005 | January 12, 2005
As some of you may already know, I’ve been asked to speak at South by South West this year. I’m really excited as this will be my first big speaking engagement, although I’m a little nervous about being on the same bill as so many talented and experienced speakers. The talk will be a joint presentation between myself and Jeremy Keith and the title of the session will be “How to bluff your way in CSS”. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s some blurb about the session.
“Don’t know your id’s from your class selectors? Feel left out at parties when the talk turns to CSS? Then this is the session for you. Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith will walk you through the basics of CSS, demystifying the jargon and clarifying commonly held misconceptions along the way. After just 60 short minutes this presentation will have you talking like a CSS expert.”
As well as an excellent line up of talks and presentations I’m really looking forward to meeting all those people who’s blogs I’ve been reading over the last few years. As such I’ve a feeling there will be a lot of socializing and few early nights.
There already seems to be quite a large UK contingent booked to go out, including the likes of Jeremy Keith, Dunstan Orchard and Richard Rutter. However it would be great get even more UK web developers to attend, so if you are planning on going, get booking before it’s too late.
If you can’t make it all the way over to the states for SXSW, then @media 2005 should be well worth attending. The line up looks great and includes the likes of Jeffrey Zeldman, Douglas Bowman and Joe Clark to name but a few. It also includes more home grown talent including Andy Clarke, Jeremy Keith, Ian Lloyd , Patrick Griffiths and myself.
I’ll be presenting a session on the first day entitled Making the Jump to Tableless Design. Here is the blurb about that session.
“You’ve seen the benefits of ‘Web Standards’ and understand the basics of CSS, but how do you build a whole site using Style Sheets alone? In this session, we will show you a typical table based site and then demonstrate how the same design can be accomplished Table Free. You’ll walk away from this presentation with all the ammunition needed to build your first tableless site.”
I hope you can make it to one of these great events and look forward to seeing you there.
100th BlogAid Pledge | January 3, 2005
Since launching BlogAid on New Years eve, the response has been extremely positive and we’re already up to our 100th pledge. However with over 6,000 visits a day to this site alone, I’m sure we can do better. So if you run a blog and would like to pledge your site earnings for January to help the victims of the Asian Earthquake and Tsunami, please head over to BlogAid and register your support now. With people only now starting back to work from their holidays and catching up on their RSS feeds, I’m hopeful we’ll reach the 200 mark even faster.
If your site doesn’t currently carry ads, programs such as Google AdSense and affiliate programs like Amazon Associates are very easy to set up and can be used solely for the duration of BlogAid. Alternatively simply donate a set amount to one of the many charities featured on the BlogAid links page.
BlogAid | December 31, 2004
Help support the Tsunami and Earthquake relief efforts by pledging the proceeds of any advertising or affiliate schemes you have on your site for the month of January to your country’s Tsunami Earthquake appeal.
British Government Shamed Into Pledging More Aid | December 31, 2004
This morning the UK government had pledged a measly Â£15 Million pounds in Aid to help the relief efforts in South East Asia. A fraction of what’s needed and a tiny percentage of what’s been spent on the war in Iraq. By Thursday evening the charity donations from the UK alone had reached Â£25 Million, shaming the UK government into raising it’s contribution by Â£35 million.
The US initially pledges $15 million, a figure U.N. humanitarian-aid chief, Jan Egeland described as “stingy”. By Tue the US had raised it’s contribution by $20 million, however this is still a tiny amount compared considering the scale of the devastation.
Asia Earthquake and Flood Appeal | December 29, 2004
People all over the world are waking up from their post Christmas stupor to face one of the largest natural disasters in recorded history. Currently the death toll stands at 60,000 and is steadily rising. The earthquake and resulting tsunami has decimated some of the most fragile and impoverished communities throughout the region. Communities that desperately need your help.
I’ve spent a number of years travelling through this part of the world and have visited many of the worst effected places. I’ve been to Banda Aceh several times and can’t believe the scale of the catastrophe afflicted on this already troubled region. I travelled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the early 90’s and fell in love with this beautiful and exotic island chain. As well as large numbers of refugees, this archipelago is home to some of the most isolated and fragile tribal communities left in the world, and I fear greatly for these peoples survival.
I’ve personally lived and worked in Thailand, teaching diving on the Islands of Phuket and Ph-Phi. Koh Phi-Phi especially is a beautiful and magical island that occupies a special place in my heart. As such I can scarcely believe the destruction suffered by this tiny tropical paradise, and fear for the lives of the people I worked with during this time.
Due to the scale, severity and reach of this disaster, aid is greatly needed in the region. I ask that all of my readers donate what they can to one of the many disaster funds that have been set up. Here are a list of the major UK funds. If you know of any funds for other country’s, please add them to the comments.
Top 5 Favorite Christmas Presents | December 27, 2004
I hope everybody has a good Christmas. Here are my top 5 presents. What were yours?
- CamelBak cycling backpack
- Return of the King extended edition DVD
- Call of Duty computer game
- Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
- Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works
Top 5 Web Applications of 2004 | December 22, 2004
Here are my top five web applications of 2004. What are yours?
- Gmail - Not that I actually use my Gmail account much, but you have to admit that Gmail feaver hit the blogsphere hard with all kinds of sites giving away free accounts. I hope the person who came up with that idea gets a big fat bonus this Christmas.
- Browsercam - I don’t think this site was new for 2004, but that’s when I first discovered and started using it. I used to use Virtual PC to do my testing, but these days Browsercam just seems more convenient. Not only can you test your designs on around 30 browser/platform combinations, but using their Java VNC client you can preview the whole site on any browser you want. Cool
- Stock.xchng - Great source of free (as in Beer) stock photography.
- Gravatar - This isn’t a service I actually use, but I do think it’s quite a cool idea, and it seems to be taking off amongst the cool blogging set.
- Google Suggest - Sneaking in at the last minute, I really love Googles new Suggest feature, which puts XMLHttpRequest to good use.
Java Games For the Sony Ericsson K700i | December 19, 2004
I’ve been really pleased with my new Sony Ericsson K700i mobile phone. Unfortunately the games that come pre-installed on the phone are pretty poor. Being new to mobile phone gaming I wondered if there was much of a shareware game culture out there. I did a bit of a Google and it appears that there isn’t. However there does seem to be a good number of sites offering illegal downloads of pirated games. As we all know the downloading of pirated material is both illegal and immoral, so I urge you to avoid sites such as this, this and this which offer an amazing selection of Java games for the K700.
Designer Christmas Cards 2004 | December 1, 2004
Last years Christmas card proved quite popular with my friends and relatives, so I thought I’d make another one this year. I decided to keep it simple so went with a classic script font and snowflake design. To make it a little more contemporary however, I chose a pink and brown colour scheme, my current favourite.
If you or your company have made a Christmas card, why not show it off here. Simply create a version of your card that’s no more than 380px wide, place a copy on your server and then display it here as a comment using textiles !imageurl! image format.
Apple Saturday | November 18, 2004
This Saturday sees the launch of the first of several Apple stores in the UK. The stores opening has been eagerly awaited by Mac geeks all over the country, some going as far as to sneak pics of the building site from a nearby roof.
I did entertain the idea of queuing up for the opening in order to get my hands on a legendary Lucky Bag. However I read on one site that the length of the queue at the SF store opening was 200 by 6am, 500 by 8am and a whopping 1,200 by 10am. As we’re a nation of professional queuers (lucky I didn’t let my spellchecker change this to what it wanted to change it to!) I bet people will already be there with tents and sleeping bags.
With only 200 lucky bags to go around, even getting the first train to London would have been too late and I’m really not up for pulling an all-nighter, no matter how great the contents will be. For those people willing to brave the Nov cold, they will end up with Â£700 worth of stuff for a measly Â£249. Expect to see these bad boys on ebay.co.uk within minutes of the store opening. I’m planning to head up around 9am on the off chance that I’ll bag one of 2,500 opening day t-shirts. considering one person sold an opening day T-shirt on ebay for $510, it may not be such a bad investment. Hell, I may try to pick up two!
The stores are supposed to be amazingly well designed so I’m looking forward to checking out the genius bar, the theatre and the legendary glass staircase. I just hope to god they don’t do the whole high five thing here.
After the store I’m planning to head over to the other big Apple event of the day, MacExpo2004. I’ve never been to a Mac Expo before so an looking forward to test driving some games, checking out the latest peripherals and maybe doing a spot of Christmas shopping. I’ll probably be there from 12pm onwards so hope to see a few of you there.
FireFox Birthday Bash | November 9, 2004
So FireFox has hit release 1.0 and geeks all over the world are throwing FireFox birthday parties in celebration. Brighton has a very high geek contingent so after an initial suggestion to the BNM mailing list, local web developer Tristan Roddis put together a Brighton FireFox bash with the backing of his employers, Cognitive Applications.
Tristan put on a great bash complete with decorations, party poppers, birthday cake and a Â£100 bar tab. There was also fun and games such as “pin the cursor on the <div> tag” and “guess the number of lines of code in FireFox”. I stupidly guessed 35,000 when the actual figure was closer to 3 million. However the highlight of the evening had to be the live video web chat with none other that FireFox icon designer John Hicks
Election Day | November 2, 2004
It’s election day in the US and it’s possibly the most important election we’ve seen in a long time. I try to keep politics out of this site, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me this one time. I’m not going to stand here and tell my American readers what to do. It’s your elections and at the end of the day the buck stops with you. However as one of your closes allies in the world, if your friends lean over to you at a party and tell you that you’ve had too much to drink and are making a fool of yourself, it’s probably worth listening to. If you choose to carry on, when you wake up in the morning with a screaming headache and the realisation that you pissed everybody else off at the party and won’t be invited again, you’ll only have yourself to blame. We’ll still love you, we just might not want to hang out with you for a while.
I’m sure most of my readers would have made up their minds weeks, if not months ago. With early voting many of you will have already had your say. As it stands the elections results of the “Worlds largest democracy” will be decided by around a million undecided voters in half a dozen swing states. It will be be decided by glossy commercials, staged appearances and millions upon millions of dollars, all of which will need to be paid back in one way or another.
At the end of the day, this election will determine how the worlds last super power is perceived by the rest of the world. Do you want to be seen as the popular kid? The one everybody wants to be like, who gets invited to all the cool parties, gets the cute girls and is nominated “most likely to succeed”. Or do you want to be seen as the hard drinking tough kid. The one who pushes the smaller kids and gets away with it because he’s bigger than everybody else and has equally tough friends.
So does America want to be Marty McFly or Biff Tannen? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.
dScape and BD4D | October 31, 2004
Local business development agency Wired Sussex put on a really good show with their dScape event this week. It’s the second time they’ve run the event and it looks to be going from strength to strength. The venue was decked out even better than last year and the free beer went down a treat.
The Short and Sharp session they had on Thursday was lots of fun and showcased a load of local talent, many who I’d never come across before. However that’s the problem with Brighton. There’s just so many cool digital companies working down here, it’s impossible to know everybody. I was lucky enough to have Ryan from BD4D staying at my place that evening so after the event we went out for a drink with Darren from Littleloud and the multi-talented Paul from StudioTonne
Friday evening saw Brighton’s second BD4D event and the reason why Ryan was down. BD4D was packed and the speakers were very different from the previous day. While the previous days speakers were showing off some great commercial work, the BD4D speakers were much more conceptual and art oriented. All the local faces were there and I had a great time hanging out and chatting with everybody. Sadly the free beer run out a little too early so I finished the off the evening hanging out with Ryan and Josh from LooseConnection at Above Audio on the sea front.
New Home | October 31, 2004
Some of you may have noticed a few odd little glitches on this site the last couple of days. Internal links going to strange looking URL’s, comments going missing and a broken bookmarks page. Well after my recent spam hassles I finally decided to bite the bullet and swap host.
My old hosts weren’t bad, but they weren’t particularly good either. Tech support was usually pretty fast, but this was soured by two major outages caused or prolonged by poor customer service. My main gripe however was cost. Hosting in the UK does seem to be more expensive that the US but $70 a month for hosting and 6GB bandwidth seemed a bit steep. I asked if they could use HTTP compression to cut down some of the bandwidth usage, but they obviously make their money from charging for extra bandwidth so said no.
So last weekend I finally decided to make the move and started moving my site to a new server. The first step was too install the latest version of Movable Type. I’d expected the move to be fairly simple but the combination of moving servers and upgrading MT caused a few more hassles than I’d expected. With MT installed I first tried simply doing a mySQL dump and then importing it into the new database. This worked surprisingly well, however something weird was going on because a number of the SQL dumps turned out to be incomplete. No matter how many times I tried or what settings I used, the data was always being truncated at the same point.
I decided to use a more manual approach and so started again from scratch inputting settings and templates into MT through the admin section and then using MT’s import/export function for the posts and comments. With all the settings correct and all the data inserted, I set about bug fixing. I believe MT has changed it’s plug-in architecture slightly so most of the bugs involved plug-ins not working. Thankfully many of the plug-ins I use have been re-written to work with MT3.x so I spent a good couple of hours downloading and installing the latest versions.
Things were now mostly working on the new server so I changed the DNS records on Tuesday morning and by Thursday evening the propagation had started to take effect. A couple of comments were lost in the process and I had a few emails from confused people thinking that I’d moderated their comments. There have been a few glitches, mostly involving links, but thanks to the eagle eyes of some of my readers, these have been cleared up pretty quickly. I’m sure there will still be the odd glitch crop up over the next few weeks, so please let me know if you spot any weirdness.
Bookmark Management, Faceted Classification and Intelligent Agents | October 24, 2004
Tom Coates observations on bookmark management really do mirror my own experiences. All those years ago I started off just adding bookmarks to my favourites folder. The folder grew in size very quickly so I started adding sub folders with names like ‘Favourites’, ‘Web Design’ and ‘Fun’. As I added more and more links, I was forced to add categories ad hoc, and it wasn’t long before sub folders were needed.
Eventually I realised this add hoc method of categorisation just wasn’t working so decided to spend a whole weekend re-organising my bookmarks ï¿½ basically the computer geeks version or reorganising your music collection. This proved to be a huge IA exercise but eventually things started to make a bit more sense.
One of the main problems with bookmarks is the classification model they use. Bookmarks are basically organised in a hierarchical structure similar to the classic computer file structure. This is great for small amounts of easily classifiable data, but quickly falls down with large amounts of multifaceted information.
For instance, take this site. Would you put it in a folder marked “blogs”, or possibly a folder marked “web design”? You may even put it in a folder marked “photography” if you were feeling particularly generous. Rather than use a hierarchical structure, things like bookmarks require a faceted classification. That way you can categorise a website by a variety of properties including topic, author, date published etc.
The other main problem is that of synchronisation. I quickly realised that my bookmarks would be useful at work as well as at home, so every now an again I’d export them from my home browser and import them into my work browser. Unfortunately because my home bookmarks form my master copy, every day I’m forced to email home half a dozen links to add to my bookmark list, which isn’t very efficient to say the least. I toyed with the idea of getting a .Mac account which allows you to sync your Safari bookmarks but decided it was a little overkill.
Instead I’ve been thinking about using del.icio.us. If you don’t know what del.icio.us is, it describes itself as a social bookmarks manager. It’s basically an online application that let’s you categorise your bookmarks with keywords and then store them online. Adding bookmarks is done using a favelet and if you don’t like the online GIU there is a simple OS X application called cocoa.licio.us available. If you want to sync your online links with your safari bookmarks you can do so with delicious2safari.
I’ve had a bit of a play with del.icio.us and it seems like a nice, simple idea. Whenever you bookmark a page you type in a list of keywords to describe it. However this means that each time you add a site, you need to think about it’s classification and what meta data you want to add. This really can cause a huge burden and forces people to create their own, ad hoc classifications and essentially their own controlled vocabulary. So while I like the concept behind del.icio.us, even if I did know how to upload my existing Safari bookmarks, I don’t have the time or inclination to go through 2403 links and classify them.
What’s needed is some semi automated classification process. Toms suggestion of using the sites Keyword meta data is an excellent one. Rather than force the user to classify each site they bookmark, you get the author to classify it. Another way to handle this would be to use pre-existing user data. When a user adds a bookmark that is already in the system, they would be given the option to add new keywords or choose from a list of existing keywords being used to describe the site. That way you’d end up organically creating a controlled vocabulary.
When personal computers debuted all those years ago, nobody really knew what they’d be used for. I doubt when the first hierarchical file systems were conceived, their creators had any idea that an average home computer would be able to store 60GB+ of data. Being lumbered with such an inflexible file system, software manufacturers came up with the idea of intelligent agents. Rather than hunt around in the file system to find information, you would use smart programs to sift through the data. An excellent example of a current intelligent agent would be iTunes.
Apple realised that people were likely to have thousands of music files on their system and wouldn’t want to organise them by album/song name alone. So they created iTunes, a basic intelligent agent that allows you to navigate your music library in a variety of ways. You can create simple playlists that you drag and drop items into. However you can also create smart playlists that help organise your music intelligently. For instance, most songs contain a certain amount of meta data like the album they came from, the artist and possibly a genre. iTunes can add it’s own meta data like when it was added to the collection, when it was last played and how many times it’s been played.
Imagine if you could do the same with your bookmarks. An intelligent bookmarks agent could analyse the keywords and even the content of the page to come up with a variety of classification facets. It would know that a specific page was from a specific site and who the author of that page was. So if you wanted to you could create a list of all the articles by Jefrey Zeldman you’ve bookmarked or all the articles on ALA you like. If this intelligent agent was linked into your browser you could create a “Favorites” bookmark list based on how many times you’ve visited that site in the last 6 months. Link it in with an RSS feed and you could create a list of all the sites updated in the last week. Conversely you could clean out the garbage by creating lists of sites you’ve not visited in over a year or have only visited once. You could even get your smart agent to ping these sites to see if the pages even still exits.
The Cost of Spam | October 16, 2004
So I’ve been having a bit of a connectivity nightmare of late. I’ve just moved flats, but the new place doesn’t have cable. As my phone, TV and net access are all through the cable company, this has left me a littlle stuck. I’ve been playing phone tennis with them for the last two weeks and there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnnel. However it’s very diffcult to play phone tennis if you work full time and don’t actuallly have a land line. What’s worse is that I get almost no mobile phone coverage in my house, making life really tricky.
Police State | September 26, 2004
So I’ve just got back from Beijing and I have to say it was a bit of a shock. Talk about a police state. A cheerless policeman on every corner, snipers on the rooftops and “special forces” with automatic weapons outside key buildings. Police vans full of “riot police” waiting to respond to the first sign of descent and police with video cameras there to record likely suspects.
However I’m not talking about Tiananmen square here, I’m talking about Brighton. Driving back into Brighton Saturday morning, the huge police presence could mean only one thing , Tony was in town with the Labour party conference. The conference involves over 1,000 policemen and has turned Brighton into either the safest place in Britain (with police patrols every 5 minutes the chance of getting mugged has to be minimal) or possibly the most dangerous (walking past the conference centre on Saturday afternoon I suddenly realised it probably wasn’t the best place for an afternoon stroll) depending on your outlook.
On a TV news poll last night they asked if people in the UK were afraid of a terrorist attack and around 70% of respondents said that they were. There really seems to be a pervading sense of dread seeping though the nation, buoyed by constant news reports and government bills on terrorism. The IRA fought a very real terrorist campaign on UK soil for years, causing a devastating attack on the Conservative government 20 years ago at their Brighton conference. And yet the IRA mainland bombing campaign never managed to create the same level of fear or knee jerk policy making the we find ourselves experiencing today.
But I digress.
I really enjoyed my trip to China and Beijing proved to be very interesting place. I’d expected a very repressive atmosphere, so was amazed at how progressive the city felt. It definitely didn’t feel like the Beijing we all saw on the news 15 years ago.
Web Essentials on Thursday | September 26, 2004
So Web Essentials 04 kicks off on Thursday and I have to say that it looks like it’s going to be a great event. If you’re a web standards designer/developer in the area and yet to book your ticket, you really should. Usually you’d be forced to fly to the States to see the likes of Dave Shea, Joe Clark and Doug Bowman speak, so if you’re an Australian or New Zealand developer this is a great opportunity to see some” excellent speakers”:http://we04.com/presenters.cfm in your own back yard.
Unfortunately it’s a bit of a long trek for European developers like myself to attend. However I have it on good authority that a couple of similar events are in the planning for the UK. In the meantime, if you’re going to the event and plan to blog it, add your URL to these comments so the rest of us can follow the event on Thursday and get the tiniest glimpse of what we’ll be missing.
BAFTA Award Winning Design Thieves | September 3, 2004
[UPDATE] Emote took down the copied site a few hours after this post and have sincerely apologised. As such I’ve removed their email address and my request for people to contact them and complain about this case of design theft. For more info see my latest comments.
If there is one thing you’d expect from a BAFTA award winning new media company, it’d be originality. So it’s very interesting to see that Birmingham new media company Emote, have decided to cut out the creative process completely with their latest redesign, and help themselves to the Web Standards Awards layout instead.
To make life easier, these Design Thieves have literally lifted the WSA stylesheet and even many of the images. In fact the only alteration to the CSS I can see (apart from some line breaks) is the addition of their own copyright notice.
Copyright 2004 Emote [ New Media Production] and may not be reproduced.
My question for the day then has to be, Is it ever right for a design agency to steal somebody else’s work, and if not, why not?
New Sony Ericsson K700i Phone | August 25, 2004
Being a blogger, a web designer and a technophile, you’d probably imagine I’d have all the latest gadgets and gizmos. However unlike some people I know who always seem to have the latest phone, iPod or laptop, most of my kit is 2 years past it’s prime and in need of replacing. Whereas some people are early adopters, I’d consider myself a late adopter.
Take mobile phones for instance. When they first came out I resisted the urge to get one for years. I just didn’t want to be a Dom Jolly like figure shouting down a brick of a phone at the top of my voice in public. In fact I only bought my first mobile a couple of years ago and it’s lasted me till this day. Yet hanging out with my cool web buddies made me realise what a technological backwater I’ve been living in all this time. While everybody showed off their polyphonic ring tones, colour screens, bluetooth devices, java games and sailing clicker software I was left with a rubbish screen, a game of snake and a battery life of a nanosecond.
The k700i basically has all the things I wanted, like a camera, bluetooth and the ability to sync with my Mac, in a small, attractive package. I went with Orange because I know quite a few people who use them and they all have very positive things to say. Also, they were the only shop who didn’t try to sell me a tariff when I went in to ask about phones, actually choosing to tell me about the phone instead.
How cool is that. It’s not quite an iPhone but it’s a step in the right direction.
Specialized Rockhopper | August 22, 2004
I went out and bought myself a new mountain bike today. I was thinking about getting getting a Claud Butler Cape Wrath as it’s had some great reviews. However I’ve heard less than complimentary things about the Judy TT forks, so decided to buy a Specialized Rockhopper from Evans Cycles instead.
I tried both of these bikes out yesterday and the Rockhopper just felt more responsive. Also, being shallow, Specialized have more cred in the mountain biking community.
Getting the bike this afternoon, I though I’d put it though it’s paces and take it for a spin. I went and rode the trail I talked about a few weeks back, and I have to say that my first impressions are good. Climbing was easier, acceleration was faster, and the shocks make a huge difference on the downhills. If getting a half decent entry level mountain bike can make this much difference, I can almost see why people get so equipment obsessed and spend huge amounts of money on their bikes.
Geekend at the Beach | August 17, 2004
Over the last few months I’ve been planning a little Bloggers get-together in Brighton, and last weekend it came to fruition. John and Dunstan came down on Friday evening, and I met up with them, Richard, Jeremy and Jessica at the Sidewinder: pub in Kemptown.
After a few drinks, and despite me and Jeremy being stuffed from our Office BBQ only hours before, we headed into town to get some sushi at Moshi-Moshi. The food was typically excellent and we spent ages chatting about this and that, to the extent that we were the last table to leave.
Being England, most pubs and bars close at 11pm. However a few bars have recently opened up in Brighton with late licences (late here means 2am). We decided to head for one of these, a place overlooking the pier, called Above Audio. We carried on drinking and chatting, eventually stumbling home around half two.
The next morning (well afternoon actually) we all met up for coffee at Frank-in-Steine’s and were joined by Patrick, Drew, Rachel and the loverly Bethany. We hung out here for a while, chatting and then went in search of food. Being 10 people - including a 7 year old - it proved a little tricky to find somewhere to eat. We eventually found some space at a cafe called Inside-out and settled in for some grub.
After lunch everybody headed off to do their own thing for a while. I went off with Patrick to grab a pint on the beach, passing inches by Keira Knightley without even realising. Although in my defence, with the likes of Cate Blanchett and Fatboy Slim living in Brighton, I’d be forgiven for missing the odd celeb. I chatted to Patrick for a while about various projects we each had on the go, and then we all met again at Bar de la Mer, one of Brighton’s many WiFi enabled Bars. We stopped there for a bit, chatting and enjoying the sun, before heading off to grab an early dinner at Krakatoa’s.
Krakatoa’s was a good laugh, with typically excellent food. We sat around on the floor, eating and chatting. Dunstan teaching us to fashion chopstick holders from their paper sleeves, and Bethany generally bouncing around and entertaining the table. Unfortunately Drew, Rachel and Bethany had to head back early, so I didn’t really get much of a chance to chat. We said out good-buys and then headed off for a drink. Patrick needed to catch the last train back at 10:30 so we went to Riki Tiks, a WiFi enabled bar close to the station. For pretty much the first time of the weekend, all the laptops came out, all varying shapes and sizes of iBook and powerbook. Not a PC in sight. Patrick headed off and we decided to head for a cocktail bar round the corner. A few cocktails latter, I was seriously struggling to stay awake, so called it an early night at about 1am.
Next morning John had to head off early, so Richard, Dunstan, Jeremy and Jessica all met up for brunch at Tallula’s tea rooms. We then headed off into town to wander round the shops. I’ve been meaning to get a mobile phone for ages, and finally got a Sony Ericsson K700i from Orange. I’ve also been meaning to get a new mountain bike so we went to the local bike shop to check out what they had. With Richard’s advice I think I’ve found the bike I want to buy, now I just have to wait till I get paid!
From here we split up and went our own ways for a while, meeting up again at 7:30 to catch the Sunday show at Komedia. As usual, it was a pretty good night at Komedia. The first two acts were of variable quality but the last act ï¿½ Carey Marx ï¿½ was absolutely superb. Very funny, very slick, and better than a lot of the comedy acts I saw at the Edinburgh Festival the week before.
And that was basically the end of our bloggers weekend. It was great fun meeting up with people like Drew, Rachel and Patrick for the first time, and it’s always good fun hanging out with John and Dunstan. There were a few others who had planned to come down but, for one reason or another, couldn’t make it, which was a shame. However I think there are plans afoot for a mass visit to SXSW next year, so hopefully we can all meet up there, not to mention meeting up with rest of you.
I can’t wait!
BBQ on the Beach | August 17, 2004
Message share an office with a couple of other design agencies, and once a year we all get together for a summer BBQ. Last Friday we shut up shop early, and with enough food and beer to supply a small army, headed down to the beach. In true British fashion it was blowing a gale, so the first task was to set up camp. This involved setting up windbreaks, unfolding deck chairs, laying out the food and starting the BBQ’s.
In typical British BBQ fashion, I hunched over the BBQ slowly burning the outside of my food, while the inside gently warmed, creating the food equivalent of a petri dish. British culture at it’s best. Once cooked we all sat round stuffing our faces, chatting, teasing other staff members and generally having a laugh.
The weather started off well, but in true British BBQ fashion, by the end it was chucking it down. Sheltering in a tiny beach hut with 10 people, 2 wet dogs and a toddler, it really was the epitome of British summertime. If you ever do have a BBQ in this country, even if it starts off with blazing sunshine, my advice would be to bring your waterproofs.
What's Been Going on at Message Lately | August 16, 2004
So it’s been a fun couple of months here at Message. The Rapha site went down well, getting mentions on sites such as CSS Beauty and winning a WSA Gold Star. The site has also featured in a number of industry magazines, most notably in two concurrent editions of Design Week.
We just released our first newsletter, written using the Text Email Newsletter guidelines. The newsletter is intended to keep clients and other interested parties up to date with what we’ve been doing. It included links to:
- The Rapha Case Study I wrote for our site.
- A great article by Jamie Freeman on The Web Design Process based on the excellent SkillSwap presentation he did a few months back.
- My Client Guide to Web Standards article, which was heavily edited by Jamie and Jo so it would make sense to a layman and not send them to sleep.
We’ve also finished a couple of projects that we’re really pleased about and will be talking about soon. Oh, and we are working on a top secret accessibility project at the moment which you’ll all be hearing about shortly.
2004 Edinburgh Festival | August 9, 2004
Just back from a weekend in Edinburgh and had a really nice time. If you’re planning to go up for the festival I can definitely recommend
- Chris Addison - I’ve seen him 3 times at Edinburgh and he never fails to amuse. His shows are polished, intelligent and very funny. In my opinion, Chris is one of the most consistent comedians on the block today.
- Marcus Brigstock - Despite being only a third full on Friday night, Marcus was cooking on gas. Very smart, very funny and very much worth seeing. I guarantee that next year his shows will sell out!
- Arthur’s seat - Climb up, have a picnic, enjoy the view.
- The Royal Mile - Wall to wall performers, buskers and all kinds of craziness. Bring your telephoto lens and plan to spend a good few hours soaking up the atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon.
If you want to save yourself some money I would suggest avoiding
- Adam Bloom - A stalwart of the comedy circuit, I was expecting good things from Adam. Unfortunately his show was mediocre at best. I hope it’s just a blip and he’ll be back on form next year.
- Brendon Burns - The first half of Brendon’s show was funny in an offensive way that only an Aussie could pull off. The second half was dire, self absorbed nonsense. Do your self a favour and see Adam Hills instead.
Mountain Biking on the South Downs | August 5, 2004
Over the last month or so I’ve been getting really into Mountain Biking. Before this summer the closest my bike had been to a mountain was the slight incline up the hill to where I live. However in the last month I’ve been getting out on my bike twice a week and thoroughly enjoying it. I think it’s partly that I’m getting bored of the gym, and partly that the weather’s been too nice to be stuck indoors. Luckily Brighton is right on the edge of the South Downs so it’s only a 15min bike ride to get into the countryside.
Last night I went out for a really nice ride with Richard Rutter and Pete Barr-Watson. Pete took us on a great trail starting at Stanmer Park, winding it’s way up to The South Downs Way and culminating in 20min downhill section coming out by the University. The round trip took around 2hrs, although it would have been a lot quicker had I not gotton a flat and then broken my chain!
If you’re interested in doing the trail it’s a pretty easy one to follow. Starting at the Entrance to Stanmer park, you follow the main road up to the agricultural college and then take the trail to the right hand side. You follow this trail up to the top of the hill where you reach a large electricity pylon. Here you hit a cross road and you need to carry straight over and down thought a heavily wooded track. Don’t hammer it too hard down here as the trail stops abruptly at a gate. Carry on through the gate and up another incline to a second gate at the top. Looking to your left you’ll see a trail heading along the side of the hill. That’s where you’re aiming for. Go through the gate and follow the trail along to the left. About halfway along you turn left and you’re now on the trial you saw earlier. Carry along here though some nice undulating countryside and you’ll hit a couple of more gates, the last one taking you onto the South Down Way.
Taking a right onto the South Down Way you cycle for around 10 minutes until you hit a road that goes into a farm. Cross the road and take the track on the right down the side of the farm. After a few minutes you’ll hit another gate on the other side of the farm. Go though this and you’ll be on a nice, chalky downhill section that lasts about 8-10 minutes depending how fast you’re going. This track comes out to a road by a farmhouse. Follow the road around and it starts to climb uphill. If you carry along this road it comes out by the side of the University. However just before the peak of the hill is a little single track that dips down into some dense forest skirting the University playing field. This is a lovely ‘off road’ track that makes the effort getting here worth the while. Keep following the track, making sure you don’t hit any trees or get knocked off by low hanging branches, and you’ll end up coming out in the middle of the University. From here you cut through the University grounds to the front of the building. Taking a track to the right, you skirt past the University gym building and end up back at the entrance to the Park.
Defying Expectations. How Good Customer Service Can Turn a Negative Into a Positive | July 24, 2004
We’ve all experienced poor customer service before. Whether it’s seeking help from your hosting company or returning faulty goods, these situation rarely end positively. You get bounced around from person to person, end up being transferred to the wrong department or sit waiting for a return phone call that never happens. When you do finally talk to somebody they either treat you like a fool or assume the problem is your fault.
The level of poor customer service is so endemic that we actually expect it. We expect that when the TV breaks, we are going to have to spend weeks on the phone to trying to get it fixed.
Companies seem to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort getting your business, but very little effort when something goes wrong. However they really are missing an opportunity. It’s at crisis points where people need help the most and when they are at their most impressionable. Do a bad job and they’ll leave with a sour taste in their mouths, but do a good job and they will be loyal customers for years to come.
An excellent case in point is Apple Computers. I bought my girlfriend an iPod for Christmas, but after only a short while the remote started to wear out. A couple of days ago it finally broke so we contacted Apple to complain. Less than 36 hours later I was signing for a new remote and along with a new set of headphones.
This has to be the best service I think I’ve ever received. No back and forth phone calls or waiting weeks for somebody to email. Just fast, effective service. We went from being pissed off with Apple because the remote had broken to singing their praise, all because they didn’t muck us around.
Every time somebody interacts with your company you have an opportunity to impress them and reinforce your brand values. Generally it’s much cheaper to retain clients than it is to recruit new ones. That means it’s vitally important for companies to look after their existing customer base.
This will probably sound obvious but it’s something that I think many companies forget. The quicker and more efficiently you get something resolved, the cheaper it’s going to be for you. When I have a server problem I end up having to ring our hosts half a dozen times before I find somebody willing to help. Rather than spend 10 minutes solving the problem and leaving me thinking what a great service they give, I make 6, 5minute phone calls and leave thinking that we really must get round to switching hosts.
I’m sure this has something to do with Apples fast service. What’s the point of spending an hour having to deal with a broken $5 component. Just send out a new one. The customer’s happy and Apple have just saved themselves an hours which they can better spend coming up with cool new products (or dealing with iPod battery complaints).
My First Ever Award | June 22, 2004
Yesterday I noticed that I’d been given an award. The award in question was one of the prestigious WhiteSpace Awards. The category I won was the “Thought to be a web designer, but proving to be a photographer” category.
I’d just like to thank everybody who made this award possible.
- Thanks to Winter for finally finishing, and Spring and Summer for providing such a great reason to be outside, and not stuck in front of my computer.
- Thanks to Brighton for being such a cool and photogenic place to live.
- I’d like to thank Message for keeping me busy the last few months.
- A big thanks to SkillSwap and The Web Standards Awards for keeping my mornings and evenings occupied.
- I’d also like to thank my girlfriend for monopolising my iMac the last few months and giving me the chance to watch more TV.
- Thanks to the gym for keeping me fit and out of the house.
- And to all the cool new blogs I’ve been reading and thanks to my RSS feed which now has well over 200 feeds in it.
- Finally a big thanks to everybody who’s emailed me offering diplomas, viagra or large sums of money for minimal risk. Love you loads.
Seriously though, I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while. I’ve been quite busy of late and It’s just been much easier to post interesting pics than to find the time for more considered posts. Now that summer is here, I imagine I’ll be spending even more time away from the computer, so expect more pics to come.
Taking the Surfing Metaphore a Little to Far | June 20, 2004
How stupid is this. If it were April 1st I'd have thought it was a joke, but apparently it's not. That's what I call taking the "surfing" metaphor just a little to far.
Via the BBC
Ten Questions for Andy Budd | May 17, 2004
Well Designed PC | April 25, 2004
Seems like Apple no longer have the monopoly on well designed home computers.
Inciting the Bile of the Web Standards Community | April 23, 2004
According to the Web Standards Project, the world needs this stuff because itï¿½s simpler, more affordable and available to all. Oh really? Could it be that theyï¿½re just ideas cooked up by a bunch of overpaid intellectuals?
He does an equally good job of knocking web accessibility and insulting people with disabilities at the same time.
Standards cronies have now latched on to the disabled ï¿½ the starving African children of high technology ï¿½ for leverage. Spend time reading A List Apart, and youï¿½ll soon get the impression that accessibility is bigger than cancer, and weï¿½re all about to go blind and lose our mouse-bearing limbs. The solution? Web standards!
I can’t believe what offensive nonsense this man is churning out. Fair enough that you don’t agree with web standards, but why the vitriol? I was so incensed that I actually contacted the publication in question to complain. And to think that I own one of this mans books!
Mobile Phone Advice | April 22, 2004
My Apple iPhone post got me thinking that I could do with a new mobile phone. Here are some of the things I’d want from a new mobile.
- An integrated camera that takes reasonable quality pictures.
- The ability to sync with iCal and Address Book.
- The ability to use the phone while travelling in Asia.
- Compact shape. I generally prefer the “candy bar” style to the “clamshell” style.
- I’m a design slut, so it must look good.
Some cool, but not strictly necessary features would be:
- The ability to remotely control my Mac using something like Sailing Clicker.
- The ability to collect pop3 mail.
- Browse the web and moBlog.
- I don’t currently own a laptop, but plan to get a iBook at some stage. It would be handy if I could use phone to connect to the net, I guess using GPRS.
So I’m looking for some advice here. Do you have a mobile phone that you’d really recommend? If so, what is it about your phone that you like so much? Is there anything around at the moment that meets my main criteria, or would it be better waiting a few months to see what new phones are released?
From Hero to Zero | March 30, 2004
My girlfriend bought me a copy of Zero7’s new CD for my birthday the other week. Putting the CD on at work, I was surprised to find that it started skipping all over the place. A little dismayed I had a quick look at the case and discovered the answer. It wasn’t actually a CD, by which I mean that it was copy protected.
From what I understand (stop me if I’m wrong) copy protection basically involves deliberately adding errors to a disk. Most low end CD players simply don’t register these errors, but better quality CD players and those meant for reading data get confused and either skip, or don’t play at all.
Testing the disk at home, it worked fine in my cheap CD player, but was an absolute no go on my iMac. In fact it basically jammed the whole CD player up and forced me to manually eject the thing while it was still spinning.
As I pretty much only listen to music using iTunes at home these days, and have stopped using a discman in favour of an iPod, not being able to transfer my music onto my computer is a big problem. If I’d bought it for myself, I would have probably taken it back to the shop and asked for a proper CD, but as it was a present, it’s not something I can really do. It looks like more and more disks in the UK are being released with copy protection, so it’s well worth baring this in mind next time your shopping for music.
I Take it All Back | March 18, 2004
When Apple announced the iPod mini, I was underwhelmed to say the least. I thought the colours looked a little tacky, and I really didn’t think there was a need for a smaller iPod. I mean, it’s not as thought the regular iPod has ever been described as bulky. My main complaint however, was the price point. For $50 more, you could get a “proper” iPod, and I really thought most people would just pay the extra cash to get something with much more space.
However, Pete got hold of one while he was in SF and I have to say, they are pretty cool. First off, they’re tiny. After seeing one in real life, I’m beginning to see the benefit of their size. They are so small, you can just keep it in your pocket permanently, and they are so light that you won’t notice it’s even there. No more walking around lopsided, with a pocket full of phones and mp3 players. Another cool feature which Pete pointed out, was the fact that you can transfer all the images on your digital camera direct to your iPod. No need for extra kit like the Belkin Media Reader. If you’ve got a digital camera like the EOS 300D, this would be a reason to get the iPod mini alone.
They are still a little pricey for the UK market, but if you happen to be in the states, you can pick them up for around ï¿½125 (if they’ve not all sold out) which is a bargain. If they were that price in the UK, they would be literally flying off the shelves. suffice to say, I’ve added one to my wish list and have my fingers crossed that somebody out there will get me one for my birthday in a few days time.
Well, it was worth a try anyway :-)
New Standards Compliant Website | March 13, 2004
The Work Included “Redesign of existing website to current web-standards, graphic design, search engine optimization”.
“Octane was contracted to redesign the hweb site for Clocking Edge Software’s award winning Hormonal Forecaster program. Already recognized as a Five Star program by Ziff Davis, HFC needed a web site that would be search engine compliant, user friendly, and striking in design. We developed a naturalistic theme that is easy to navigate and very quick loading, while still maintaining standards compliance and google-friendliness.”
And there was me thinking that I created the naturalistic theme and graphic design. I have to say that I’m not massively bothered about people using a version of sub:lime on their personal sites. But I really draw the line as having my work ripped by another web design agency and then passed off as their own!
Amazon Wishlist | March 9, 2004
When I designed my blog, I added my Amazon wishlist more because everybody else did it, than because I though people would want to buy me stuff. However I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Somebody may find something on this site that helps them, and decide to buy me something as way of thanks.
However I’ve never been bought anything and to be honest, it didn’t come as a surprise. Then last week, I was browsing my wishlist and saw a link saying “Items already purchased for you are hidden from view. Reveal purchased items”. Cool I thought, somebody has bought me something. Sure enough, I see that some kind sole has bought me a couple of books of my list.
Hang on a minute, I thought. I’ve not actually been sent any books. So I shoot off an email to Amazon asking if they can tell me what’s going on. The following day I get a polite email back saying no, they can’t tell me what’s going on, I have to speak to the person who bought me the items. I tried to explain that I didn’t know who bought me the items, but get sent back a reply saying that Amazon can’t tell me who bough the books for me. I try to explain that I wasn’t asking them to tell me who sent me the book, but that surely they must know, and couldn’t they find out what’s going on. I get a reply back, basically saying exactly the same thing. Sorry but we cant tell you who sent you the books. End of conversation.
So if the person or persons who bought me these books is reading this, I’d just like to say a big thanks as they are both books I’ve wanted for a while. However is there any chance you could drop Amazon an email to let them know that the books haven’t been recieved :-(
Domain Name Registry of America Scam | January 14, 2004
In the last couple of weeks an official sounding company called the Domain Name Registry of America has been sending letters to the owners of non UK domain names (.com, .org, .net etc) telling them their domains are about to expire and that they need to renew.
If you're not used to dealing with domain name issues or if you read the letter quickly it would be easy for you to assume (which is the intention) that the domain is registered with this company and they are just being helpful in letting you know it's time to renew. However this is actually a scam. This company is based in Canada and is sending out these letters in order to dupe domain name owners into transferring their domain names to this company. They have nothing to do with the domain names in question and the domains usually aren't about to expire.
As I own a few domain names I've had a couple of these letters so far (as have a number of friends, colleagues and neighbours). On first glance they look quite convincing, and if you don't know the terminology it would be very easy to fall for the scam.
I also happen to be the tech/admin contact for a few domain names at work. In this capacity I've also received emails from this company saying that somebody has requested the domain name be transferred and asking me, as the admin contact, to confirm the transfer. Again, these email look convincing, and my first impression was that somebody at the company in question had fallen for one of the scam letters. However after doing a quick google, it appears that this is just another one of their scam methods.
So if you receive one of these letters or emails, don't get taken in by this scam.
Driving Myself Mad | January 5, 2004
Hi folks. Hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year. Sorry that postings have been a little sparse of late (read non-existant), but I stayed away from the computer over Christmas and made an impromptu road trip to Edinburgh to celebrate the New Year.
As I live on the South Coast, the journy to Scotland was pretty arduous. The trip up was around 500 miles (800km). Probably not a lot if you're from the states or Australia, but it's a huge amount in the UK.
First off we're not really used to driving large distances in the UK. This is partly because the UK is pretty small and partly because it's so densely populated, most things are close together. I've driven around places like Australia and literally you have to drive for 3hrs+ just to get from one town to another. In the UK, the next main town is likely only to be a few miles down the road.
I once drove up the coast of California, from San Diego to San Francisco in a matter of a few days. I've done similar distances in NZ and both times found driving long distances quite easy. However after being on a UK motorway for a few hours, my concentration is shot and I'm feeling decidedly stressed. I guess it's due in a large part to the busyness of the roads. In California, traffic outside the main cities was pretty quiet and in NZ you could go for 20min easily without seeing another car. Here it's wall to wall traffic the whole way.
Also the driving conditions here suck. On this trip we had think fog, ice, frost, pelting rain and snow. Because it's winter it got dark at around 3:30 which meant for most of the time we were driving in the dark. You'd think that in these conditions people would drive a little more sensibly but even in 30m visibility people were driving like maniacs. As such you really have to concentrate on your driving over here which can really take it out of you.
The thing that really got me though was the shear amount of bad driving I witnessed. People seem to have become so aggressive with their driving here. This was most notably demonstrated by the amount of tailgating and undertaking going on. People would zoom up to the car in front ridiculously close in order to force the driver infront to get out of the way. Now I've seen this happen occasionally when somebody is driving really fast in the outside lane and they find themselves behind a car much slower than themselves. However on this trip people were doing this when there literally 5mph difference in speed and where the car behind would have had nowhere to go anyway because that's how fast the lane of traffic was moving. People were even doing it when there was plenty of space for them to overtake, I'm guessing just for the fun of intimidating other drivers and as a means of keeping themselves entertained. Lot's of fun until the person in-front breaks and you've just caused a 3 lane, 15 car pile up.
Now I'm sure if you were to meet these people in person they would be thoroughly nice people. They'll be sensible and polite, kind to small animals and children, so god knows why they turn into raving psychopaths when they get behind the wheels of their Ford Mondeos, BMW's or 4x4's?
There were also a large number of completely clueless drivers out there. People pulled over on the motorway for a kip, make a call or go for a pee. People stopped on the slip-road to read a map, driving down the fast lane eating their sarnies, swerving all over the place or driving at 30mph in the slow lane with their hazard lights on for no apparent reason. It was like all the worst and most aggressive drivers in the country were on day release and determined to cause an RTA.
Luckily I made up back all in one piece but will definitely think twice before driving up to Scotland for New Year again. Especially as they cancelled the New Year celebrations at the last minute.
Chungking | December 19, 2003
p. I've just been to see Chungking, my favourite band of 2003. Their debut album We Travel Fast is definitely my top album of the year, and with a gorgeous lead singer and a bass player who looks like a young Ron Jeremy, you can't go wrong. So if you're yet to experience Chungking, I strongly recommend going out and buying their album. You won't regret it.
Designer Christmas Cards | December 17, 2003
This time of year, designers all over the globe crack open their vector graphics programs and create their own Christmas Cards. Now this is something I’ve never done myself, but I had a few hours to kill tonight so thought “what the heck”.
As this is my first effort, I’d be interested to see what people think. I’d also be interested to see your own Christmas Card designs.
Bull and Bush | November 19, 2003
So the Bush circus rolled into town last night, closely followed by a staff of 700+. Before arriving the Bush administration put a number of requests to the UK government. They wanted diplomatic immunity for their 250 armed security staff to shoot to kill, just incase they accidentally shot a protester. They wanted the tube system shut down, as well as most of the centre of London, something that would have brought the capitol to a halt and cost god knows how many million pounds in lost revenue. To protect Bush the London Police force have had to cancel leave, pull in staff from across the south and are planning to have a force of 14,000 in place for the 4 day visit, more people that we currently have "Peacekeeping" in Iraq. The policing bill alone will cost the people of London £5 million, something they are not too happy about.
Despite the fact that the British Government are supporting Bush in the war on Iraq, British opinion is very much divided. There was a massive groundswell of support against the war from a wide section of society. However people felt this anti war sentiment didn't get reflected in the US media and that middle America largely believe the UK support the invasion of Iraq. An estimated 100,000 people are expected to turn up to protest against the Bush administration over the next couple of days with the hope that the US media will cover the story.
Unfortunately much of the US coverage I've seen has been very negative and misleading. There is a feeling amongst the US press that the demonstrators (and by implication the British public) are anti American, however this is far from the case. The British public feel much closer culturally to the States then they do to Europe and if you're an American in the UK you're unlikely to feel any animosity. The protesters are definitely not anti American. However they are against the current regimes foreign policies. From the invasion of Iraq to the US's failure to sign the Kyoto agreement, from illegal Steel tariffs to wriggling out of their human rights commitments, many people see the US government as saying one thing and doing something completely different.
So this is why people are protesting against Bush. It's not that the British are mad fiery Europeans who will protest at the drop of a hat. In actual fact we are a fairly ambivalent nation so it takes a lot to get people out on the streets in such huge numbers. And it's not that we hate Americans (we really don't). We just see the US as an friend at a dinner party who is being a bit obnoxious and is starting to annoy the rest of the dinner guests. As we're you're closest friend at the party we feel it's our responsibility to let you know what people think in order to avoid upsetting the rest of the guests and making yourself look like an ass.
Combatting Junk Mail, Marketting Calls and Text Message Spam in the UK | November 8, 2003
I used to work as a freelance web designer and in order to get more business I registered with a number of services like the Yellow pages. However rather than bring any business in, all that happened was my address, land line and mobile number got added to every junk mail list and phone marketing list in the country. Since then I've received all kinds of get rich quick junk mail and phone calls from people trying to flog me cheaper electricity.
However a while ago a couple of services were launched in the UK to help stem the flow of these marketing nuisances. The Telephone Preference Service and the Mailing Preference Service allow you to register your phone and address details, and by law anybody in the UK using list of contact info has to make sure their lists are cleaned of anybody on these centralised "opt-out" lists.
So I've just signed up and hope to see a dramatic reduction in the junk mail and marketing phone calls I receive. Shame something similar wouldn't work with email spam.
Home Again! | October 25, 2003
Flew into Heathrow this morning at 5am to be greeted by a beautiful, crisp autumn morning. I have to say my initial immersion into the British climate was a bit of a shock, so I was glad to get home and put on my winter clothes. Suffice to say nothing much has happened in the last 2 weeks. Everything is still overpriced, the majority of British people are still insufferably rude, and the streets are still littered with rubbish (although luckily this time of year, most of it's obscured by fallen leaves).
Still, Brighton is a very cool place to come back to. After all, how many places in the world would you see Zoe Ball (d-list UK celeb) shopping at your local supermarket. I'd love to live overseas (Oz, NZ, HK etc), but if I have to live in the UK I cant think of a nicer spot than Brighton. Oh, and I even managed to score a couple of ticket to see Ed Burn at the last night (tonight) of the Brighton Comedy Festival.
So the holiday was very cool. Vietnam was great. Having spent a good deal of time traveling around different countries, I have to say that the Vietnamese are possible the most friendly people I've come across. My girlfriend fell over outside a shop on our last day and broke her shoe. The people from the shop came running out to see if she was OK (which she was), and somebody walking past fixed her shoe there and then for nothing. I'd like to see that happening outside your local branch of McDonalds.
Saigon is a very cool city. Like most big asian cities, it's pretty manic. People living their lives out on the streets rather than tucked away inside like people in the west. Hungry? Need your Honda Dream fixed? Need a haircut or want your ears cleaned? They'll be somebody sitting in a tiny plastic stall by the side of the road only too willing to help.
Most people think Saigon is a little dull, preferring the charm of Hanoi. To be honest Hanoi is a much prettier city and has everything that the decreeing backpacker could want. However Saigon is a very cool place if you know where to look. It's kind of short on tourist attractions, but makes up for it in nightlife.
The city has some great places to eat, far too many to name here. However if you're a veggie I'd strongly recommend checking out Tib. Oh, and if you like your Thai food, Chao Thai is a must. As for Bars, there are plenty, from expat bars such as Sheridans (run by a friend of ours dad) to the ultra trendy Q Bar or the highly entertaining Carmen Bar.
However the Jewel of the trip was the 5 days we spent in Cambodia looking around Angkor. We were there in the middle of the rainy season, which had both it's benefits and also it's problems. On the positive side of things there were very few tourists. I'd imagine the place is a nightmare in high season, but luckily we had many of the smaller temples to ourselves and even the bigger ones like the Bayon weren't swamped and when we visited Angkor Wat you could have counted the other tourists on one hand.
However because of the gray skies it wasn't ideal photography weather. No beautiful light or glorious sunsets to speak of, so I'm not holding my breath with my photos. I bought over 20 rolls of film with me expecting to shoot most of them at Angkor, however in the end I think I only shot 5 or 6 rolls. I get the pics back on Mon/Tue but am not expecting much. Will definitely have to go back again when the light is better.
I don't know if any of you visited the link I posted in my last entry to the wonderful photography of John McDermott, however if you didn't I'd strongly recommend you give it a look. We were fortunate to meet up with the man himself, as he was running an exhibition of his work in the Grand Hotel. John Achieves such a distinctive look by using Infrared film, something I know very little about. He was kind enough to explain a little about his technique and how infrared film used to be used by the military. Apparently is was used to find camouflaged positions in densely forested areas because the foliage comes out almost white, allowing camouflaged targets to be easily spotted.
Used for artistic purposes it creates an amazingly distinctive look and is definitely something I'd like to play with. However it sounds like it could be pretty tricky to use so I probably need to master regular film first.
So anyway I'm now back. However It's probably going to take me a while to settle back into things. In 2 weeks I ended up getting over 600 emails. around 350 were picked up by my spam filter. Another 200 spams got though (now trashed), but that still leaves mw with around 50 emails to read and reply to. So if you happen to have sent me an email, I will get back to you if I can, but it'll take some time for me to clear my email backlog.
I had intended to blog while I was away. However I was enjoying not being near a computer so much that I decided to just give things a break for the duration. Sorry that people were greeted with a blank home page for a week or so. Next time I go away I'll have to remember to up the number of days posts I display.
I have to say that I was a little saddened seeing all the comment spam on my blog when I got back this morning. It was almost like going away on holiday and coming back to find your house vandalized. Really not very nice. So I just wanted to say a big thanks to all the Viagra and porn pushers abusing this site in my absence. Nothing like abusing somebody's hospitality and good nature for your own selfish ends. You'll get your comeuppance in the end. You'll just spoil it for others in the process.
So, on the whole I had a really good holiday. I visited Angkor, a place I've wanted to go for a good few years now, ate well, drank well, got a little colour and will hopefully have one or two nice pics to show for it all.
The big printer cartridge scam | September 21, 2003
I bought a Epsom printer a while back. Just a cheap £70 job. I don't really use it that much, just printing the odd web page. I did think I'd use it to print photos, but the quality has been so poor I gave up after the first attempt. So I was mightily surprised to find that I've just gone through my second colour cartridge since having the thing.
I have no idea why my colour cartridges run out so quickly as pretty much everything I print is in b/w. I noticed that whenever I print something, the settings always default to colour (something I know I can change, but even so!). I really can't believe the printer can be using the colour cartridge to print in black, when it's got a perfectly good black cartridge to use, but it does make you wonder?
What's most annoying though, is the printer seems to want to force me to go out and buy a colour cartridge. It won't allow me to print a page in black and white even thought there is ink in the black cartridge, insisting that I've got to go out and purchase a colour cartridge first. Now this just seems wrong. The printer forcing me to buy a colour cartridge before it'll let me print out a b/w page!
This may just be an oversight by the manufactures, but I can't help imagining a planning meeting at Epsom, where somebody comes up with the bright idea of disabling the printer when any cartridge runs out in order to force people to buy their overly priced, monopolistic peripherals.
So I guess it's a trip to Dixons today to spend £40 on a colour cartridge that I don't want and don't need.
Jerry Springer the Opera | September 10, 2003
Talking of Jerry Springer, if you get the chance you really have to go see Jerry Springer the Opera. I saw it at last years Edinburgh Fringe Festival and could not believe how funny it was. I pretty much laughed the whole way through. In fact I laughed so much it hurt. It was just so wrong!
It's now on in London and I hope it will make it's way over to the states at some stage. However I have my suspicions that it may be a little bit too strong for American audiences, what with a chorus of KKK members signing "This is my Jerry Springer moment" and some religious gags that make The Life of Brian look reverential by comparison.
Anyway, as the show says
"Bring on the Chicks with dicks"
Being ill sucks | September 10, 2003
I've been off work the last couple of days with a cold, and have to say it's sucks. I always quite like the idea of being off ill. It brings back memories of not going to school, lounging around the house watching old Basil Rathbone movies, eating soup and not having to do any homework. It also brings back memories of being a student, getting up late, watching daytime TV and playing computer games all day.
Unfortunately the reality is just so far removed from the romantic image I possess, its laughable. There are no cool Black and White movies on TV. No cool 70's reruns of Starskey and Hutch or The Professionals and no completely nutty folks on Jerry Springer having affairs with their underage transvestite cousins. In fact with 30 channels of shite to choose from, there is absolutely nothing to watch at all! My head hurts far to much to use the computer for more than 5min, let alone play any games. About the most I can do is sit on the couch, groan a little and feel sorry for myself!
Oh, and eat soup!
Amazon bookmarklets that work in Safari | September 4, 2003
I created a couple of simple bookmarklets/favelets tonight to search for books and other products on Amazon. There are a few similar bookmarklets around but I couldn't find any that worked in Safari so decided to knock some up myself. I'm always checking things out on Amazon so thought somebody else may find them useful as well.
To install the bookmarklets simply drag them to your bookmarks toolbar or Links bar.
To use them just highlight some text on a page, then click on the bookmarklet to search for that text on Amazon. Simple as that!
So far I've only tested these bookmarklets/favelets on Safari so I'd be really grateful if people could try them out on other browsers and let me know if they work.
Natty Threads | September 1, 2003
If you're looking for some cool new designer t-shirts but don't want to be waring the same stuff as everybody else, I'd suggest having a look at knofler.co.uk. A relatively new label set up by a local Brighton designer, you'll only fine these quality T's in a few select stores so wont have to worry about bumping into somebody wearing the same threads. At the moment there is no e-commerce facility, but I'm sure if you drop Pete an email, he'll be able to sort something out.
On the subject of T-shirts, If your looking for t-shirts of doe eyed manga-esque characters doing themselves with a double ended dildo, then look no further than wrongclothes.co.uk. Set up by the self styled sickos from Kerb, the illustration is predictably great. Just don't wear the tops to visit your grandmother.
Looking for more cool designer clobber? Have a look at a few of these:
- Threadless - Some really nice designs and a smart site to boot!
- Spunky - A few nice designs
- Seven Tenths - Cool, surf style diving theads
- Uniform - Got some nice designs here
If you know any more, please add the url's in the comments.
Usability testing, blogger social and London power cuts | August 29, 2003
I was looking forward to the first ever Brighton bloggers meet up last night. However I was up in London yesterday doing paper prototype usability testing for a client's extranet and ended up getting stuck in London's own mini blackout. Shame I missed the social and having a beer with the usual suspects. Still I had a lovely meal with my girlfriend at Busaba Ethai in Soho, and was glad that I fanally got back to Brighton in one piece.