"They might seem opposed, but it's really a love-story" - Over the Air 2011 at Bletchley Park (30 Sep/ 1st Oct)

This post was written 10 years ago.
Thu, 06 Oct 2011

With the heading I don't mean Over the Air and Bletchley Park, as the meeting and the venue seemed really well suited from the start. In fact, I heard from quite a few people, and I would join in with that, that the event should be held here next year, too. No, I have taken this message from a presentation by Dominique Hazaël-Massieux about the somewhat strained relationship between native mobile apps and web apps. He likened this relationship to that between the UK and France, which is also really a love-story (where of course the French are the superior party, just as are web apps compared to native ones ;) )

But let me start at the beginning. My decision to attend Over the Air was quite a spontaneous one, as I felt quite exhausted, and I also didn't know of anybody I knew who was going. But spontaneous decisions can be the best, and this one was especially good.

I heard some brilliant talks (see below). About HTML5 and its implication for mobile, about the native - web dilemma, which in all the talks was acknowledged to be far from black and white, or even either/or; about APIs, open government data and mobile app security. In addition, there where tours around Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing. That in itself was quite an experience, and we had an extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide who didn't hide his pleasure at for once having an audience that he could explain the technical things in detail to. Not ending there, there was an Ignite event on the first evening. I met really nice and interesting people. It was the last days of summer, and we were in lovely surroundings.

Really the only thing that you could perhaps complain about whas the flaky wifi. It did not affect me very much, because I did not have my netbook, and did from the start decide I would not try to get involved in any hacking. But it restricted some of the attempts of the people who actuallly were in the position to cook up an app overnight.

But build they did, and it was really impressive what the different teams presented at the end of the event. Apart from that there was also a demonstration of an enigma machine built with garden hoses, glasses and some round objects that were not marbles (they wouldn't have fitted through the tubes), but I can't remember what they actually were.

The Ignite event was also really good, with talks by Terence Eden about QRpedia, one by Chris Monk called "Kids can't code" (they could, if we taught them), and another one I particularly liked was about cryptic crosswords by Imran Ghory. How many differenct clues for "mobile" can you find??

After that people stayed up very late as expected, consuming part of a tower of pizzas sitting in the marquee. I went to "bed" uncharacteristically early and slept surprisingly well in a sleeping bag on the floor of the ballroom.

lake in Bletchley park

And then there was the tour the next morning. Before going on it I just about knew that Bletchley Park was the "home of the codebreakers" during the war, and I was not really sure what Enigma actually was. It was fascinating to hear about this part of history, the part it played in the development of computing, and also what a big role 'human error' played in the deciphering of code. For example, after transmitting Enigma-encoded messages, the operators would exchange unencrypted Morse code to have personal chats, along the lines of "How is Gertrude in Munich?". These conversations were all logged at Bletchley park, and they sometimes gave clues to what operators would use as the first three letters in their messages - the letters that determined the setting of the Enigma machine. There was also a Lorenz machine operator, who had to resend a message and didn't bother to change the key setting when he transmitted the message again - a shortened version of it. "In cryptography, receiving two different messages sent on the same key means you're in" as was pointed out to us. Apart from that the rebuilt - working! - Bombe machine and especially the Colossus were really impressive. What dedication it must have taken to put these machines together again.

Did it matter that I was German? Very little. It did come up at one point when our guide showed an example message and asked if anybody knew German. When I said yes and added that I was in fact German, there was a brief murmur, then somebody said - yes, you guessed it - "Don't mention the war", and we just all laughed. Later I realised that more time has passed since that Fawlty Towers episode was first aired (1975), then had passed then since the war. I think this is becoming less and less of a topic. There are really other things to worry about, aren't there?

There's a lot more in Bletchley Park to discover than I have seen, and I definitely want to go back there.

Some of the talks I heard - building for the mobile web, bridging the gap between web and native

This was a multi-track conference, and sometimes I found it difficult to choose from the different talks. For example, I feel sorry to have missed the talk on the BBC Public digital space, "debugging web apps on mobile devices" (but just had a look at the slides and think they will be really useful, too, should I attempt such a thing!) and Developing a better world one startup at a time.

But I was very glad to hear the ones that I did. One of the highlights for me was Lyza Gardner's talk "Crap, it doesn't look quite right.." as it seemed to encompass all that I'd ever heard or thought - plus some new things - about how to develop websites for mobile with the necessary pragmatism. One point that came up in the discussion (and not only at this talk) was how to adapt images for the small screen. It is by now clear that the "Responsive design" approach is not the definitive answer here (see the "Fools gold" article - written by a colleague of Lyza's, as I just noticed). This is an occasion where it makes sense to use device detection. It was interesting to hear Lyza's aproach, wich was to use the Wurfl database to detect screen size, using breakpoints to determine which cached resized image to use. Between those breakpoints she uses the "responsive" technique to resize the images. Somebody also pointed out that you would get a caching problem if you had too many different sizes of pictures.

I heard two talks about HTML5/CSS3/Javascript, the one mentioned above, and one by Bruce Lawson. Both were very informative and entertaining. Dominique pointed out that websites have influenced very much how native apps work while web apps can learn from native apps (and will, through the new APIs). He said web apps need to become "first class citizens", they need an application list and application switching as native apps have. Also, there should be the possibility to isolate cookies for the individual apps. It looks in fact like web apps are gaining ground, so this will hopefully become a reality.

So what does it look like in practice if you want to build a mobile web app? James Hugman from future platforms explained how they built the very successful app for the Glastonbury festival. The app should run on iOS, Android and Nokia. James pointed out that Android users don't like to have iOS-like user experience on their phone, you need different interfaces for different phones. But they did not want to develop three different apps, and wanted to use web techniques. So they looked at the Titanium framework which supports iOS and Android. But there were some difficulties, like the lack of tooling. Eventually they developed their own framework called Kirin, which uses native presentation layer and native platform, but the application layer is written in Javascript, MySQL etc. My notes on this are very scarce, so check out the slides which will be up after DroidCon. Sure worth a look.

Another mobile app built with web technologies is the app for the BBC World Service. The app runs in 27 languages, including languages with right-to-left writing. "What do you use, native or web? As so often, the answer is 'It depends'", said David Vella who gave a presentation about the app. It became clear in several talks, that while it would be good to build everything purely with HTML5 and related technologies, it is not always practicable to do this. And native and web need not be mutually exclusive, as you can write a web app and then repackage it as a native app. In this case, David and colleagues used HTML5 in combination with CSS, jQuery and iScroll plugin, but the code grew and grew and they eventually switched to the Backbone framework for the Javascript. The plan is to make the app downloadable by repackaging it with PhoneGap, but also make it available just as a URL. I really enjoyed this presentation by David Vella, have a look at the slides.

This was a really well organised conference with a great athmosphere and great people. Hopefully there will be an Over the Air in Bletchley Park in 2012.

This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

dConstruct 2011

This post was written 10 years ago.
Sat, 03 Sep 2011

This was my second dConstruct after last year's, and expectations were high. Have they been met? Ultimately yes, but not so much till after lunch, with the three final talks being especially brilliant in my view. This is not to say the morning talks weren't good though, and I particularly enjoyed Kelly Goto and Craig Mod - although the latter left me a bit puzzled as well!

Anyway, here is a summary of the talks:

Emotional Design for the World of Objects

"We live in interesting times. Everything changes". This was a kind of thread running through Don Norman's talk. And in saying that, I guess he was well aware that it's nothing new. But what exactly are the challenges at the moment? This was Don's take:

  • Lack of standards due to many different devices and operating systems, as well as different ways of interacting with them
  • Google and others. Again, not exactly news, but probably worth emphasizing it. "What is Google's business model? You are the product, and the advertisers are the customers." And: "They just want your name. Are you happy to be their product?"
  • Difficulties of focusing. We can not focus on one device anymore. We cannot just develop for desktop, or mobile. We have to think in systems.
  • Experience is not the main thing, it's the memory of the experience that we should think of creating

An interesting observation was the evolution of the ways we interact with programs - although can he be sure it is really going this way? "We started with the command line, then we got the graphical user interface. Now we are moving to gestures. The command line is more efficient. But you have to remember a lot. GUI slower, but easy to understand. The gestures will have to be memorized again. We have come full circle."

Generally he stated, more physical interaction is coming back, although there is a lack of standards. Little of the facts that he related were new to me (including the "inverse" scrolling on Lion OS, although I am not a Mac user), and still I felt that on quite a few occasions I gained a new insight, or remembered one. This is especially true for the "you are the product" statement. I think it is something I'm just often in denial of, and I am probably not alone in that.

Beyond usability - Mapping emotion to experience

Kelly Goto started by asking the audience whether it was the actual phone people felt attached to, or the experience the phone provided. "Who has kept a phone that doesn't work anymore? Has it got memories attached?" 

One of the most emotional moments of the conference for me was, when she related the story of how her daughters each broke a leg at the same time (they were being carried down the stairs by a friend; when he tripped he fell backwards and slammed his elbows into their legs). This was followed by a little video of the two girls walking around happily with each a leg in plaster ("It all ended well"). The whole experience changed the way Kelly was thinking about how someone interacts with devices that are used by medics to support them. Having had to wait 40 minutes to be seen at the emergency department she felt very strongly about making the interaction as swift as possible.

She also observed how by looking at your PC, phone or tablet you kind of "devolve" from the upright human being, to being hunched over your screen. It also becomes difficult to interact with the world around you. How can we "evolve back" ? We have focused on the human-machine interaction. Maybe it is time to think how machines interact with us.

Interestingly the notion of seeing the world around you was picked up in the last talk as well.


How can we evolve to become upright again and look at the world around us?

Kelly quoted another example from her family life. A babysitter had been round for the first time, so Kelly stayed around for a while. The girl was for most of the time totally engrossed with her phone, and kept sending texts or checking facebook/Twitter. "How do I tell her in a nice way? I try to keep the things seperate. When I am with my kids, I don't look at the phone or iPad."

Much of the research she does is involved with looking at the context and the moods in which people use digital devices. How can the experience be made more pleasurable? A company asked how to create "addiction". But addiction can not created by will (also, is that really a good target?), rather it is important to look at rituals. routines that people have, and see that using a service can become part of that.

There are a lot of more interesting points and on the Ubelly site you can read more about the talk and some slides.

Letting go

The slides for Bryan and Stephanie Rieger's talk have been published in the meantime, and I really think they do speak for themselves, so I will just refer to them.

I felt similar about this talk as the Don Norman one. The single facts were not really new or surprising. But it was still inspiring in terms of highlighting the scale of the change that the evolution of technology has brought and continues to bring.

What is the shape of the future book

Craig Mod's presentation consisted part of a talk, part of reading a literary text from his Kindle. He had obviously written the text himself, something I only realised much after the conference. He had made references to Antonio Tabucchi and Italo Calvino at the beginning of the talk, so I had thought it might be by one of those two authors.

But let's start at the beginning.

There were a lot of valid points in the first half of the talk, and it was also quite funny. My favourite was the "knowledge nipple", a concept of how a student's knowledge grows, originally applied to writing a PhD, but which according to Craig, occured in the same way when working as a designer at a startup. 

For this alone it was worth hearing this talk.

I also liked how he talked about the importance of travelling for himself, and how you sometimes got a clearer look for the things you left behind when you are far away from them.

He went on to talk about three important challenges when making digital books

1. Tame unfiltered data
2. Create quiet data (as an example: The Kindle produces "quiet data", unlike the iPad where the distraction of Twitter or Angry birds is always too near)
3. Corral data

The story Craig then read out was an "imagined history of the book". A myth about a gigantic object, that to lift out of the sand took generations of citizens that had to be specifically trained. Once it was finally excavated it fell over and killed some of the people. It was dispersed into myriads of small pieces, smaller versions of itself, but the information contained in them could then not be read anymore (very unreliable digested digested read from my memory)

The reading was accomponied by changing graphics that were mirroring what was happening in the story. I found the story poetic and intriguing, but I could not totally make sense of it, assuming it was meant to make sense. I would pretty much subscribe to this blogpost. And I will certainly listen to the podcast when it is available.

The conclusion: "The book is no longer a package. It is information services. We are now trying to excavate the myth."

Oh god, it's full of stars

Frank Chimero talked about the differences between analogue and digital means of collecting information: A physical stack of objects (analogue) versus the "phantom pile" (digital). There are so many services on the web that let you collect information. Delicious, Tumblr, Flickr, InstaPaper, Readability, iTunes etc. "And I can fav, star, like and +1 things!" You create an array of "multiple stars at varying distances", some collected earlier than others, some more and some less important.

19th Century Gentlemen kept a "commonplace book" where they collected information, which according to Chimero was like "ye olde Tumblr blog". There was an element of serendipity in it, when you were looking to retrieve some information, you would come past other pages that you might end up reading. This is not the case anymore, when you can retrieve something immediately by searching for it. (I find the web hugely serendipitous I have to say, but that is perhaps in a different context.)

Chimero talked about the various challenges in dealing with the invisible digital phantom pile. Sorting it, dealing with shifting things to the future to consume them later (InstaPaper, Readability), using different media.

He finished by pointing to the Biblion project and had the wish he could do something like this with his collection of "stars".

Storytelling, play and code

Dan Hon talked about how people tell stories with different technical means. There was the "hard way" when the web was mostly DIY, and there are tools like Twitter, or heelo (now defunct) where people can set up fake counts very easily, but can have a massive impacts. I will point at the slides for this talk again, as they give you all the examples that were mentioned.

The Transformers

Kars Alfrink said he had originally wanted to talk about the repurposing of buildings, but then "this happened" and he pointed to a slide that showed a scene from the London riots. He was now going to talk about divided cities. Some of them divided very visibly, some by invisible lines.

He started by talking about a town on the Dutch-Belgian border. In Holland it is called Baarle Nassau, and in Belgium Baarle Hertog, and you have Belgian enclaves in the Dutch parts and vice versa, with white lines running on the floor to mark the many borders. Often seperations can happen without physical borders. There is a novel The City & the City by China Miéville about two cities that occupy the same space. But in each city the residents are taught from childhood on to ignore the citizens of the other city which is called "unseeing". Seperation happens without real physical borders.

When you have a divided society you can have situations that remind you of The City & the City. Kars talked about an incident in Hackney where about 30 black kids had been running scared from two hooded figures on bikes, while a white couple was sitting in a cafe sipping whine, unperturbed by what was going on. When this seperation is driven to extremes, it leads to riots. Kars quoted one of the rioters. "You wouldn't be talking to be now if we didn't riot, would you". You have to "hack into the attention economy" to be noticed.

In the 60s, there was a group in Holland called the "Provos" that staged non-violent protests just to provoke the authorithies. In one case for example they were carrying a banner with nothing on it. But they were still arrested.

Protests and riots are nothing new. What is new, is the facility to organise them through social media. The riots are a "Flash crash of civil society". It is not the fault of social media, of course. We should be looking at using social media in more positive ways. How can we make society more resilient? Perhaps by upsetting conventions, rules. What the riots showed was that people lived in different cities.

Games could help. There is a game for the Nintendo DS called Animal Crossing which can be seen as critique of consumerist society. The player is faced with settling into a town and buying a house, but having to take up a mortgage and make new debts if they want to furnish their house, buy new shiny products.

Kars next showed a slide that had the word Gamification crossed out. Gamification focuses on rewards, but by doing so, it neglects the fact that doing good things can be beneficial in itself. A better approach is to focus on the rules of the game.

Games can counteract the filter bubble, the tendency to seek out like-minded indiviuals. They can embed different perspectives in rules (they can also do the opposite and create a monoculture). There are some interesting urban games doing this (there is Visible Cities for example). But the problem with urban games is that they don't scale. You have to organise an event, and it takes effort to organise them.

Rules can be made up by the participants, Barcamps are a great example of self-governance. There is a lack of a central authority. Another good example is bookcrossing. There is also an interesting game called Nomic. A move consists simply of creating a new rule. Then the players have to vote on whether it will be accepted.

In western culture, it is almost as if we are playing massive parallel games of Nomic. We have much liberty in choosing how to live, We live by self-selected individual rules. Nomic together with social software could be used to create shared rulespaces.

I think it is very interesting to think of this purpose of games. But I wonder how this could be put into practice. In any case, this talk, which was for me the most impressive one of the event, made me look at games in a different way.

Pocket Scale

Matthew Sheret came on stage with a sonic screwdriver in his hand which turned out to be a laser remote control, that the London Hackspace founder Jonty Waring had built for him. "I think we are time travellers", he asserted. And Doctor Who turned up many times in this talk.

I would not give it much credit if I tried to decribe it. You have to see it (or hear it) to get the most of it. It was very entertaining and had many good thoughts about the meaning of pocket-sized gadgets and how hacking can personalize an item.

Sheret wished for "intimate, meaningful objects that humanis networks, making timetravel a bit more fun".

Reality is Plenty

Kevin Slavin's talk was another highlight for me, and a great talk to conclude the conference.

He challenged notions of reality and how much we believe those to be linked to a single sense, vision. He comes to the conclusion that we don't really need an extra layer transposed on our vision ("keep the naked eye naked").

He started off with a video from 5 years ago showing a boy playing a game with an augmented reality layer on his phone.

After that he set out to do an "American-style interrogation of reality". He related the story of a technician in the US army during the second world war ("only half true, and I don't even know which half is true"). Norman was an operator working in the navy who had to transpose images from a small radar to a big screen upside-down and backwards. He had to do this very quickly, so that the army could act on the targets picked up by the radar efficiently. To train for this, Norman was sent to a town where everything (for examples the newspapers and signs) was written upside-down and backwards. Norman said it took three weeks till he was able to convert those signs in a snap.

Taking this as an example, where reality is altered in a certain way and changes perception, Kevin then contrasted this with what we understand these days by "augmented reality". The term was only coined 20 years ago by Tom Caudell who helped aircraft workers to fix cables by overlaying their vision with the paths along which the cables had to be fixed.

Slavin quoted the books Rules of play on the "immersive fallacy". We might think the more real something looks the more real it feels, but that is not necessarily the case. It is much more important how something behaves. What matters is not perfection, but expression. "It doesn't matter what you look like, but what you do". In 1996, the Tamagotchi game succeeded so well in immersing children in the reality of caring for a pet, that it was banned in some schools in Hawaii. And it outdid in numbers any 3D games that were coming out at the same time.

The uncanny valley is the point between barely real and completely real, we feel uncomfortable with a robot that has some human traits.

Adding a visual layer might not be the best means to achieve an enhanced experience of realty: "As we aspire to build lenses that will render the world in front of us, we are actually at the fronteer of this uncanny valley. The uncanny valley will finally have real-world geography. Our cities which we've been browsing since they were built, will become searchable. But by transposing secrets and facts on the human eye, these facts might actually become further apart."

Another point is that for pilots it can be helpful if marks are drawn onto the screen, because they only have to look forward. But when this was tried with car screens it turned out that this was actually not helpful. A driver needs to perceive what is around him as well. By focusing on a small point on a screen his reality actually diminishes instead of being augmented.

Instead of changing what we see, it might be better to change how we see.

 

This was again a very inspiring dConstruct. It is a long way to go to Brighton just for one day (and the journey home was a bit of an adventure, but amusing in hindsight), but I have a feeling I will go there again next year. So maybe see you there in 2012!

 

Places where to find more about the talks:

Eva-Lotta Lamm's sketches
Good blog posts with pics, written on the day by Adam Tinworth 
Lanyrd dconstruct coverage

This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

Accidental Javascript programming

This post was written 10 years ago.
Wed, 31 Aug 2011

After doing some programming, starting a book about how to think like a Computer Scientist, and reading Javascript the Good Parts, 1.5 times so far (more iterations will follow), I now have a far better understanding of Javascript than say a year ago. Still, there is much more to learn.

I have had a go at programming something in Javascript though (not jQuery). This was for a w3c course in mobile web development - blog post on that to follow. Javascript had not really been the focus, but rather making things work on desktop and mobile. Anyway, it is a little hangman app - there's simply not enough of them yet ;) . I know I could have found code for this on the web, but I just tried myself. Better not to look at the source code!

I'd quite like to make some changes, allow to choose words from different languages for example. But I think the most important would probably be to improve the user experience of the main interaction in this game: Entering and checking a lettter. Another thing that is bugging me is that the SVG does not work on most phones. There should be a fallback if SVG cannot be displayed.

Anyway, it works reasonably well on a desktop environment - including local storage which means you can close and open the browser and pick up from where you left the game. The list of words is at a sub-teen child's level at the moment, and my children actually like playing it! So here's the little Hangman game.

 

This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

Silverstripe - Load search results in Model Admin automatically

This post was written 10 years ago.
Sat, 28 May 2011

I just spent the evening looking at various solutions to this. Originally I had been pointed to this ticket, but this solution did not quite work for me. After shopping around, including this post on css-tricks, and also this on the Silverstripe forum, I concocted this little jQuery script:

ModelAdmin_improvement.js

(function($) {
$(document).ready(function() {
$('#Form_SearchForm_Therapist').submit();

$("#ModelClassSelector").change(function() {
var modelName = $("#ModelClassSelector select option:selected").val();
var strFormname = "#Form_Search" + modelName;
$(strFormname).submit();
})
})
})(jQuery);


Then of course, in your Subclass of ModelAdmin.php you need to add it as a requirement in the init() function:


function init()
{
parent::init();
Requirements::javascript("mysite/javascript/ModelAdmin_improvement.js");
}

Like this when you first load the ModelAmin in the CMS, results for the default model class will automatically show. Also, when you select a different model from the dropbox options, results for that will be loaded automatically.

Comment by Peter Bacon Darwin 27/06/2011

You can remove the hard-coded "Therapist" with this code:

(function($) {
$(document).ready(function() {
var modelName = $("#ModelClassSelector select option:selected").val();
var strFormname = "#Form_Search" + modelName;
$(strFormname).submit();

$("#ModelClassSelector").change(function() {
var modelName = $("#ModelClassSelector select option:selected").val();
var strFormname = "#Form_Search" + modelName;
$(strFormname).submit();
})
})
})(jQuery);
This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: silverstripe /

Plans for the rest of 2011

This post was written 10 years ago.
Thu, 19 May 2011

For various reasons the start of this year was not that easy for me, and something I wanted to become a tradition already got left behind: To write down what I had done each year, and make plans for the new one. After postponing it a lot, I have decided now is a good time for plans, as I am between projects, and I start to see a little more clearly where I might be going.

2010 + five months of 2011: How did it go?

2010 was a good year overall. New possibilities opened up, I met inspiring people and learned a lot. And it became really clear that web development was what I wanted to continue doing.

As for web projects, I mainly worked for the Centre for Deaf Studies at Bristol University, and in September 2010 I started working on a directory of Bristol and Bath therapists, commissioned by a group of local therapists. They were for my standards quite big projects, and given my restricted working times, I am happy with what I managed to do.

It was a great experience for me doing the therapists' directory. I was solely responsible for all the development of the site - including the design. There are some specific features to this directory that make it quite complex. Where previously SilverStripe had been a CMS for me, this time I made heavy use of its underlying application framework. My programming skills have improved a lot! (There were a few moments of despair, too.)

Find-a-therapist, this is now live after a 'soft launch'


First version of 'MyFriendCentral' - originally it was required to fit onto a netbook, vertically. Something I whish I had challenged more..

I almost forgot that I did another thing, a site for a German Saturday school in Croydon, similar to the one I did for Bristol, based on TYPO3, using a YAML-template. That was interesting as well, as it turned out the site was to reside on a server that somebody ran privately. I had to access it remotely and do all kinds of command line stuff, which I actually started to enjoy after a while. I would really like to learn how to administer a server, and I have toyed with the idea to get a bytemark server running symbyosis, but it is just the one thing too much. There are other things that I need to learn first.

Apart from creating websites, one nice thing I did was taking part in an SVG (scalable vector graphics) course run by the W3C. I have to admit that I have not used SVG since, but I think I will at least try it out. The course was quite challenging, there was a lot of ground covered in just 5 weeks. It took a lot of time to do the coursework as well. But there is something about these courses (I did the mobile course the year before) that I totally relish. They somehow lift me up, and it is just nice to be given some structure in your learning for once, and not have to do it all yourself. One nice effect of this course was that my final coursework that I built using the unofficial Google wheather API, was mentioned on the w3c blog, alongside with that of Sylvia Egger whom I admire. It was also rewarding in itself having been able to build this little 'app'.

The conference I didn't blog about

As a consequence of the w3c mobile course I did in 2009, I learned that its tutor, Phil Archer, was going to be in Bristol as a speaker at a one day free workshop about the "mobile web". It was an event organised by DevSCI, targeted at developers in Higher Education, but other developers were welcome to come along, so I did. I wrote a blog entry about it, and there are some video recordings including one where two lovely female freelancers give their expert opinion. This event was great. It was great hearing people talk who worked each day with the mobile web and were building projects for it. And I really got a good impression of the different aspects of mobile web development that I could use as starting points in case I wanted to do something similar.

Following on from that I was alerted to another DevCSI event, Linked Data hackdays. So I attended that as well, and it, too, was extremely interesting. I learned things beyond Linked Data as well. We used the commandline quite a bit. We installed a Triple Server, and we learned about the different notations that Triples could be expressed in. And much more.


Dev8D in London

And then there was this one: Dev8D. The developer happy days. Hugh? Look at the logo, it is meant to be an emoticon, a happy face. I only learned that at the very end of the conference. This two-day conference took place in London, in the ULU building. And it blew me away. Again, from the contents there was so much I enjoyed hearing about. There were "Ask the experts" sessions about the topics I had heard at the workshops, the mobile web, linked data and open data. There were also a lot of familiar faces from those workshops. Then I sat in a long introduction to Python and tried out writing some scripts. This was followed by an introduction to the Molly framework (which itself is based on Django). On the next day there was a hands-on session where you got to look at the framework in detail. Unfortunately I could not install the required Virtual Machine on my netbook (who uses a netbook for developing!), but I did follow along nevertheless. One thing I didn't do and the significance of which I discovered only gradually, is give one of the challenges a try, sit at "basecamp" on a round table with the laptop in front of me, and.. hack. Program, build something. Just like that. I would not have been able to, even if I had wanted.


Flip-Flop circuit obtained at Dev8D from Chris Gutteridge - brought this home and the children loved playing with it

It was only when I had left the conference that I suddenly got this uneasy feeling. Why had I been there, why had I been allowed to be there? These were all proper developers. Some of them not even web developers. They had studied this at university, unlike me. And a lot of them were, as I had just previously seen Margaret Atwood describe it, "so sharp their brains poke through their skulls like the pins in the Scarecrow of The Wizard of Oz". What on earth was I doing there? But then I kept telling myself: I had been welcome there, and those developers were very happy to share their knowledge. (I had even over lunch been let in on some 'political' issue at one of the universities, which I will keep quiet about though). There had been some other people there who did not work in HE (and with whom I had some nice conversations). I could just enjoy being in their presence, without necessarily having their expertise. And then this: It would be my challenge to come back to this conference and tackle one of the programming challenges. Maybe not in one year. In two? In any case I really want to learn some more programming, and it would be nice to go back there. It was just a shame there were no other 'commercial' developers there, as it was open to everyone. I think they would enjoy it, too.

A conference that I did blog about, if only briefly: DConstruct. That also blew me away, the quality of the speakers, the originality of their talks and their thoughts. It was like somehow you suddenly felt why you had this urge to do all this. Why web development? As if somebody was suddenly giving you a reason, and gave you some kind of belief system to go with it. I will also always remember the trip back to Bristol where among a lot of other interesting stuff I learned that the Paddington bear comes from Peru.

Then I also went to a few Bathcamps, and also a very enjoyable 'Tweetup'. Until writing it all down, I had not been aware how many things I had actually attended!

Next stop - mobile apps?

I really need to finish this post off. It is unbelievable how much time I have spent on it. And it has been more about what I've done than actual plans. But it has been quite therapeutic, and it will be great to have this record in years to come. A record of the year 2010 and a half.

So, finally, here are my goals for the remaining 7 months of this year:

There is one general thing I have decided. After the big (for my standards) project for the therapists, I would like to have some time to learn some new things, and also build many small personal sites where I try out the things that I have learned. There is also the portal website for bilingual families that I mentioned in the post last year. I am not sure if I will manage to do it, but it would be nice if I could. 

I could be accused of enjoying it too much, to just do this as some kind of self-indulgence, more like a hobby. But I don't really believe this to be true. A lot of people are passionate about the web, and there is nothing wrong with it. I also expect to occasionally do things I don't like, I still want to earn at least some money and then I can't always decide what to do.

But now the concrete skills that I would like to learn:

  • Learn more advanced programming (design patterns, architecture, testing)
  • Learn to work with APIs and data sets
  • HTML5/CSS3
  • Javascript/Ajax
  • Mobile apps

There is such a hype around mobile and responsive web design at the moment that it almost puts me off. And yet I feel strongly that that is the direction to go in for me. But I could also say, it is part of the direction. What I really want to learn is to build applications. I have really developed a love for programming. This might turn out a tragic love, because it can be a world full of pain. Still, it is a great feeling to be able to just build some new functionality. But I will only be able to tell what it will be like when I start doing it.

One thing not to forget is that I carry a massive responsibility as a mother. And as I have recently realised, as the children get older, they will actually need me more, not less. So all of this is really about finding a way of doing web development in a meaningful, but somehow... contained way. To be clear, of course fathers carry that same resonsibility, but the actual practical side of it still mostly falls to the mother. And in my case, I am fine with that, I am grateful that my husband goes to work everyday and earns enough money for us to live on. That is also a massive responsibilty. And I love being with the children, too, I wouldn't want to send them off to after-school club everyday - at the moment they go to none, which admittedly puts quite a strain on my work-days.

The many brilliant web developers here in Bristol, the underscorers, I think I just can't use them as my role models. I can admire them, but I should maybe not try to become like them, because I can't. (Apart from my being a mother, there is also the age question. How would I ever catch up with them, I started so late.) An interesting question here for me is the quality of my work, and especially what degree of complexity I can achieve. I have come to love programming, but I probably do it at a sort of 'embryonic' level. Still, I just have this feeling that I could get quite far with it. I mean the generic concepts of programming that are not tied to a specific language, I already know quite a bit about that, and I have grasped the concepts of object-oriented programming. I think it should be possible to slowly slowly get to more complex levels. I have been programming things I never thought I would be able to, maybe it could continue that way?

What I have often thought - and everytime I manage to think that way, it actually makes me feel good - is to see it all like a game, a challenge. I will just learn, and produce as much as I can, at a level as advanced as I can. And if I can produce something really good along the way, all the better. And if I managed to become good enough to even start earning some serious money with it, that would be fantastic.

I had some general goals, too, and one was to clarify my professional situation, which I think I have done. A second one was being more 'grown-up', which I would define now as: Move from analyzing and worrying too much, to just focus on the work I am doing, doing it the best way I can, be approachable and responsive to people and see how I can best be of help to them. In web development, but should apply to other areas as well! While I have moved a bit towards this goal, there is still much room for improvement. And finally there was this: Write more! I did write a few blog posts, and I think they weren't too bad. But I would like this here to be the start of something more regular. I just love to write, and it really is worth it!


  • Excellent blog post Katja! You write very openly and honestly, it's lovely to hear your inner thoughts.

    I'm really into learning more about those 5 things you mentioned, maybe not so much the mobile apps, but definitely design patterns, APIs and datasets, yum yum :D

    You said, "I have been programming things I never thought I would be able to, maybe it could continue that way?". I reckon that's true!

    Posted by tom, 20/05/2011 6:44pm (5 months ago)

  • Thanks very much, Tom! That's very encouraging!

    Posted by Katja, 20/05/2011 7:02pm (5 months ago)


This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: webdev / dev8d / uni /

VolunTree - Ideas for an app matching volunteers with causes

This post was written 10 years ago.
Mon, 07 Feb 2011

This is my report back to Local by Social, following an event in Bristol on 29 and 30 January 2011 that I took part in. The event was about using Open Data to improve services to the public. The first day consisted of a series of talks, followed by a brainstorming session about what comunity apps we would find useful. The second day was a 'hack day'. The ideas by then had been distilled down to five projects, which about 30 people worked on. (The audience at the first day had been at least a hundred.) Ours had a varying number of participants, but I think the final number was three: Mark Braggins, Tim Winship and me. It fell to me to present our ideas at the end, and write it up.

In our group we outlined what our app should do and how it could work, but did not get to the point that we discussed the practicalities of building it. Part of our time was devoted to hearing Tim Davies explain about Open Data, including his Open Data cookbook, and the differentiation to Linked Data. This was very worthwhile, and I will attach some notes at the end of this post. But first:

VolunTree - a future volunteering app

Initial ideas

We started by discussing our ideas of what a "volunteering app" should do. The consensus was that it should be a matching service for both people wanting to volunteer, and organisations (or even individuals) in need of helpers.

We also agreed that it should, at first, be restricted to a local level, that is, Bristol, and that it should be integrated with already existing services.

What is already out there?

We had a look at some sites that were providing services in the volunteering sector:

UK-based:
Do-it
i-volunteer
Reach
Timebank

US-based:
Volunteermatch
Hands on Nashville
Groundcrew

iPhone apps: 
Volunteermatch, iLocate, vinspired

In Bristol:
Voscur
bristolvolunteers

What service does the app provide that's not already there?

Many of the existing sites let organisations looking for volunteers post their profiles and their needs. People willing to offer their time can then scan these posts and contact the organisation in question. Our idea was to let potential volunteers enter profiles including their skills, interests and availability, and give organisations the opportunity to contact the volunteers, based on these profiles. I subsequently found that there are some websites that use volunteer profiles (VolunteerMatch, Reach), so part of this has actually been done. 

What does the app do?

Volunteers

  • provide contact details
  • select categories they are interested in (children, arts, IT etc.)
  • indicate whether they want to donate time as a one-off, on a regular basis, or occasionally
  • indicate when they are available

There could be some additional 'rating mechanism' where volunteers collect rewards for volunteering. We had slightly differing opinions here. I thought there should just be a reward for having turned up and done the job, while my 'colleagues' thought a star-rating by the organisation that had requested help would be good.

Charities, or even individuals

  • provide contact details
  • select the categories that apply to the work they've got
  • have option to post when they need help for a specific event, project

The app can be used by volunteers to match the posted work against their profiles. Also, there could be the option that when an organisation posts about a one-off event or project they need help with, a text/email/other kind of notification goes out to those volunteers that have a matching profile.

As mentioned before, there could be some rating mechanism, and we were also thinking that sponsors could donate 'rewards' that could then be given to the 'best volunteers'.

Further thoughts

We did not get to the question "How do we realise this technically". As these days were about Open Data, how could these be used? There is certainly the element of locality. Which places where volunteers are needed, are near me? But could there be more to it? Charities are pushed to publish more data, especially on how they use their money, how much organisational overhead is there, what part of the money does actually go to the causes themselves? Could these data become part of the app? And how about the volunteering being done for the charity? Perhaps the data on how many volunteers worked for a charity could also become part of the Open Data. Eventually, could data about where, when and how many volunteers are needed, be fed directly into the app from the charities' sites? We are certainly a long way from that, and it would be more a case for Linked Data, and Linked Data that can be published easily and routinely.

Apart from the technical aspects, there is a lot to consider here. If you include skilled workers, and people working with children, there is the problem of having qualifications verified and CRB checks carried out. Could a service be integrated that checks the volunteer, and, once this is done, allow their profile to be marked as "checked"? All of us agreed that the current situation where a CRB check for one school cannot be used for another is creating a lot of unnecessary work and is just annoying for both the applicant and the employer. But as long as the situation is like that, should one perhaps restrict the app just to unskilled work without special requirements? And, what's more, how could such a service be funded?

Conclusion

Our group had quite a few ideas about this app, although we didn't build anything. It would have been great if we could have started on that, perhaps by pulling existing data from the web, but there was little time, and admittedly we also did not have the expertise in this topic to achieve something like that in one day! To have such a service would certainly be desirable, and considering that people aged 16-24 are the main age group offering to volunteer, an app seems the right format.

Funnily enough, while I was looking for the Guardian article, I learned about the website for vinspired (see above). And it seems to do exactly what we had in mind, including the rewards scheme (and there is an iPhone app!) - but only for 16 - 25 year olds. Vinspired seems to be quite successful and working well, which is good to see. It could perhaps be an inspiration to build a similar service for people of all ages, and an app that works on all mobiles..

 

Tim Davies talking about Open Data and Linked Data

I have to admit that my notes on this are a bit sketchy, so if I get anything of this wrong, it is definitely my fault, not Tim's! Also, our little group joined in only half-way through, so I did not catch all of what he was explaining.

When you look at Open Data, the first thing to consider is the different formats that data can be in. One of the main objectives of making data available to applications is to turn data present in a human-readable format, into data understandable by machines.

The simplest way to present data in a human-readable format is in a spreadsheet. However, if you use Excel, you might use different colours that communicate additional meaning, and sometimes you have more than one piece of information in once cell. To make these data machine-readable, the first step is to convert the extra meaning into completely "flat data", as you would have it in the non-proprietary format CSV.

A good tool that can be used to 'clean up' data in that way is Google refine.

I think at that point we started talking about Linked Data, and how those were related to Open Data.

Open Data can come in all kinds of formats, while Linked Data is always in the form of RDF.* But that is just the technical aspect. The idea of linked data was to get context back into the data, to create self-describing data. You get the context by data linking to other data (as the name says).

If you want to create Linked Data, you describe it using RDF. As for the terms that you use for describing your data, you first look at what other people have used before. The namespaces definining the properties you can use are those belonging to so-called ontologies. There are well-known ontologies like FOAF (to describe people) or Dublin Core (to describe resources, among others web pages). If the terms you need for describing your data are not in an existing ontology, you can just create your own. There is a guideline describing how to author new ontologies, called OWL.

An important aspect of Linked data is that each item has its own URL. Each ontology has a URL, too. There is a service called prefix.cc that lets you look up existing ontologies.

The main characteristics of Open Linked Data are summed up in the 5 stars of Open Linked Data. (There could also be Linked Data that is not open**)

Going back to Google Refine, this lets you import all the properties from a namespace by providing the URL for that namespace. Another helpful tool Tim mentioned is Geonames, which gives you coordinates and other data for place names.

One of the listeners remarked that in the local councils there was a lot of scepticism about the use of Linked Data. Mostly because of the resources you would need to create this form of data. And what benefit did you get from it? Tim replied that indeed at the moment there were few simple use cases for Linked Data. But that in areas where there were standards emerging (as is the case with spending data), it would get easier to publish data, and that the benefits would become more apparent.

One aspect that can make a difference is certainly to make data viewable. One example is the Comparator tool that is part of the Young Lives Data project that Tim did. The site also includes a good description of the process of making data available in that way.   

As Tim concluded, in the future the best way to publish your data might be to provide it as linked data, but then also transformed back into CSV and made viewable.

So basically, the data goes on a loop, but afterwards it is linked, and that could make quite a difference.

-----------------------------------------

*Actually the term format is not totally correct when you talk about RDF. As Tim pointed out, RDF is more a model than a format. The standard format is RDF/XML, but the data can be presented in other formats like N3 or also inside an XHTML document as RDFa. The data can also be hosted in a so-called Triplestore.

**This article is also quite interesting in that respect: Open Data, Linked Data & the Semantic Web)

This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: open_data / linked_data / apps /

Workshop: Developing for the Mobile Web

This post was written 11 years ago.
Fri, 29 Oct 2010

Web developers flocked in their hoardes to two big events in Bristol last Wednesday: the Web Developers Conference and the Plone Conference, the latter of which is still going on as I write. Both are/were for sure excellent events and I had planned to attend WDC2010. However, I eventually chose to go to a third event that was also being held in Bristol and I did not regret it one bit.

The event in question took place at the ILRT premises in Bristol, and was called "Developing for the Mobile Web". It was mainly directed at developers in higher education - being part of the DevCSI project - but was open to other developers, too.

A large part of this one-day workshop consisted of accounts, sometimes quite in-depth, of the speakers' day-to-day work with the mobile web. That, together with a very informative talk by Phil Archer from the W3C about Mobile Web Best Practices, and a CSS-session at the end, made for a very successful mixture.

Topics covered included mobile university web sites, the geolocation API, HTML5, native apps versus web apps, mobile development frameworks  - a topic that was completely new to me - as well as best practices (mobile web, css, accessibility).

How have Mobile Best Practices changed since 2006?

I won't go into all the talks in detail but rather pick a few that impressed me. After short introductions by Mike Jones and Mahendra Mahey, who had conceived and organised the event, Phil Archer kicked off with the question of what has changed since the creation of the W3C's Mobile web best practices document.

This document was put together in 2006. But shortly after most of the substantial work had been done, the iPhone hit the scene. So what has changed since then with regards to best practices? The answer is - suprisingly little. In fact, details of the document have not changed at all. And while the reality of the mobile web has changed a lot through the arrival of the iPhone and Android, the principles of designing for the mobile web have not.

Take media queries, which get talked about a lot these days, and seem to be the essence of how to code for the mobile web, but have in fact been around since 2001. One kind of sad thing is that the different media types (screen, handheld and so on) cannot be used in the way they were intended. Because people tended to write pretty bad stylesheets for handheld devices, a number of manufacturers decided not to support this media type. To me, that seems like a wasted opportunity. These days to target handhelds with css alone, you have to write a combination of media types and media queries.

It's also worth remembering that developing for the mobile web does not mean developing for the iPhone, and also the idea of "one web". If you have one website, to render very different versions for mobile and desktop is not really the idea.

If you want more information about the talk, the slides are online.

Geolocation API and HTML5

I was also very impressed with the second talk, although admittedly I understood a lot less about it. And yet, given the topic, I found it at places surprisingly easy to follow. The talk was given by Ben Butchart of EDINA, which is part of the University of Edinburgh. His group is investigating ways of delivering maps to mobile using the geolocation API and HTML5 techniques. While the group is specifically targeting SmartPhones, they do not want to develop native apps for specific providers. I hope I got that right, but, if not, quite a good summary can be found on the Wiki of the GeoMobile project .

A good source of information is also their blog, mobilegeo.wordpress.com. The slides of the talk contained quite a bit of code, mainly showing how the geolocation API was used, and also HTML5. The HTML5 techniques used were Canvas, Local Storage and Cache. It became clear, for example, that it is quite important to be able to store data locally as well. HTML5 Canvas has great potential because it allows to get inside the image itself and use an array of pixels that can then be processed.

What I found quite interesting was the fact that the Ordnance Survey had to make their data publicly available and there is an API that can be used for that. (They also have a 'web-map builder' that might be a nice alternative to embedding google maps - I have tried it out for outlining the itineray of an up-coming lantern walk)

There were quite a few interesting technical details -- take a look, for example, at this blog post about touchMap, which examines using a different framework from OpenLayers. But although I found them interesting, I have to admit I don't really know anything about them, so it does not make so much sense if I just list them here. I am waiting for the slides to become available!

Ben Butchart concluded that it was a really interesting time to be in web app development, because of the competition between browsers in terms of performance and implementation of new standards, and it would be interesting to see how the translation from desktop to mobile browser will work out. Some emerging technologies were mentioned as well, as Canvas 3d and Augmented Reality.

Oxford and the open-source mobile framework

And so on to my third highlight -- three presentations about mobile university projects targeted at students at the universities of Liverpool, Bristol and Oxford. Each was clearly at three different stages of development. Anthony Doherty from the University of Liverpool gave an overview of his project, which was still in a planning phase - or, one could say, in a review phase, after initial trials (one done by themselves, a mobile web app, and one by an outside provider, a native web app). But there was no clear result yet and no live site was demonstrated.

The Bristol University project, in contrast, mymobilebristol, already has a beta site m.bristol.ac.uk up and running, with quite a few features. This project was presented by Mike Jones. It displays the content of the university website in a way suitable for mobile (although not yet for all mobiles!, as Phil Archer observed), but the most striking bit is certainly the maps. And I was not alone in thinking that live bus departures was a very useful and cool feature, as were wifi hotspots and free computer places. It is worth mentioning that the workshop was done in conjunction with the mymobilebristol project.

The Oxford mobile site, however, was better than the other two by quite a margin. They seem to have got an awful lot right. I have to admit not having properly checked the site out yet, so I could be blinded by the good looks. But the list of features is equally impressive.

After the talk I got the chance to briefly talk to Tim Fernando who gave the presentation, and who was also one of the (few) people working on it. Naively, I had thought there must have been loads of people developing it. Fernando said this was a "testament to the Django framework". Oxford University has also released the project as an open-source framework now (a framework using a framework then..), which is certainly worth checking out: mollyproject.sourceforge.net.

One neat thing about it is that it is not device-specific. Towards the end of the day, the discussion native app versus web app came up again, and Fernando conceded that it was much quicker to develop a native app, and that there was the benefit that local storage could be used much more, thus reducing both band-width and processing power. But he did think and hope that developments would converge on using the mobile web. The Oxford site is certainly a good example of this.

This blog post is getting very long. I would have liked to lose a few words about the virtual CSS session with "Big John" Gallant of positioniseverything.net which was also very good although he was not specifically targeting CSS for mobile. Some great lightning talks (check out the programme). And the nice lunch-time chat with Phil Archer and Gicela Morales where I learned that we were in quite a historic building (FoaF started here). But I have to go..

Anyway, thanks everybody who organised this and the speakers! It was a great day and I learned a lot (and hope I can make use of it soon).

  • Thanks, Katja, for your report, very interesting!

    Posted by Frances de Waal, 01/11/2010 10:30am

This post was written 11 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

dConstruct 2010

This post was written 11 years ago.
Sun, 05 Sep 2010

I have not been to many web design conferences. And still I'm pretty sure they won't get much more impressive than this. I heard some criticism before going. That dConstruct was not very hands-on and you didn't learn much that could be applied directly. That might be true. It is not so much for the hands than for the mind.

First of all, the speakers were extremely talented and professional. Even if you didn't care about the theme of the conference - which this year was "Design and creativity" - you could take a lot away from the talks, many insights as well as amusing anecdotes from fields as varied as typography, filming and musical improvisation. It was a joy to listen and watch the speakers on the stage.

So what about the talks? There were nine of them, each one half an hour long, stretched out over a day.

And there was Jeremy Keith speaking the opening and closing remarks. At the start of the conference he announced that Clearleft, the agency he works for, are hiring a UX person. So if you fancy living in Brighton and are an excellent UX person give it a go! He also announced that the twitter hashtag for the conference was #sausagebap and you will find some tweets under that.

I was going to write about each talk in detail, but I realize I just don't have the time for it, and if I don't write now, I never will. So I will try to do some twitter-style summaries of them. But if you really want a comprehensive overview, the best is to turn to (in this case hand-drawn!) infographics, as we learned at the conference. Check out evalottchen's sketches.

The talks:

Marty Neumeier - The Designful company:
Be radically different - tell if, apart from that, you are good, from the first reactions to a product. If good, it won't do well to start with, but will pick up soon!

Brendan Dawes - Boil, Simmer, Reduce
A design is best when you can't take anything away anymore. But before that, collect, develop and play, play, play!

David McCandless - Information is beautiful
Graphics make information more accessible. But always has to be in context. US spend most on defence, but not per person! Porridge is most popular cereal, but beaten by miles by toast.

Samantha Warren - The Power and Beauty of Typography
Posters differ from websites. Much colour - and no Georgia! Typefaces are like shoes for your website, if well chosen they take you a long way.

John Gruber - The Auteur theory of design
Auteur is different from author - not restricted to writing; the auteur is making. The quality of a product approaches the quality that the person in charge is capable of recognizing. 

Hannah Donovan - Jam Session - What Improvisation can teach us about design
Improvisation is: spontaneous - performing - cooperation - trading parts. You lose yourself in it. Good design is like that

James Bridle - The Value of Ruins
Wow, impressive recount of history. Introducing wiki-race (how many links from random to target page) The edits of wiki page on Iraq war fill several large volumes of books.

Tom Coates - Everything the network touches
Coates also starts with history, Darius's great network of roads. Talk is one of the highlights apparently, but Mrs Durrani drifts off to the land of nod more than once, and cannot report any more. Shame!

Merlin Mann - Kerning, Orgasms & Those Goddamned Japanese Toothpicks
(Can explain the title no better than before) Funny talk and much advice. People outside web community don't understand what you are doing (yes!). Good advice often hurts. Growth hurts.

Merlin Mann talked in an accent that I could mostly understand, and there were loads of times when I wholeheartedly aggreed with what he was saying, but than he got to the point, everybody laughed - and I hadn't understood it. - Although it seems I was not the only one. Apart from this one talk I had no trouble understanding anybody, and as I said they were all great to listen and watch. John Gruber told some really interesting things about Kubrick films.

As somebody else remarked, talk about user experience was notably absent from this conference (except opening remarks by Keith), more power was placed in the hands of the designer again. Ford was quoted twice ("If I had asked people what they want, they would have said faster horses"). It was interesting in that respect though that the talk about the "auteur theory" in which one man informs the whole project was followed by a talk about improvisation and collaboration among more or less equal partners. Unless I missed something. Maybe different cases call for different approaches?

In any case it was great being there!

This post was written 11 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: dConstruct / design /

Plans for 2010

This post was written 12 years ago.
Fri, 08 Jan 2010

There is still snow in the streets and it is freezing cold. Yet after two days of closure, school is on again (starting at 10 instead of 9) and my girl has gone, somewhat grudgingly, her brother is off to nursery and their father off to work. Quiet, uninterrupted time, the time to be productive!!

How best to use it? Sometimes a certain anxiety comes with that question. How much will I be able to tick off this time, how much can I manage to squeeze in, is this really the best thing to do right now (GTD is beckoning)? I'm sure I am not the only one who feels like that! Yet today, once everybody had left I decided to write this post, and I was sure it was the thing to do. I might feel a bit stressed once I have finished it, but I wanted to write it all week. It means something to me, because it is about making (professional) plans and targets for the year, and committing to it "in public" - although hardly anybody will read this post ;) (which, at this stage, I don't actually mind).

So, let's get cracking. First, some general considerations. I almost wanted to call this post "The end of the baby years", and this has a double meaning to me. My little boy is to start school in September. So, this year, I definitely want to clarify my professional situation. On a most basic level I can phrase the question like this: "Will my main source of income be from web development?" And I don't only want to answer this question, but start earning some money.

Secondly, I want to grow up! This might sound curious and I struggle to explain it. In the widest sense, it has to do with being too self-focused. - This is partially through no fault of my own (but also nobody else's fault! Just the circumstances). I won't write more, it is too personal and also would take too long at this point. In any case, I never want to lose the ability to play, that is for sure!! I realize more and more that it is a big leap to go from voluntary work to - continuous - professional work, and the biggest leap is in my mind! Otherwise it didn't need to be, and I think people are ready to accept me as a professional, probably more ready then myself. I think I am professional in the way I look at making websites. Knowledgewise, I am pretty up to scratch with how to create websites in a professional way. I follow web standards, and I follow relevant podcasts and blogs with the latest news on how to best do things. It is clear that I don't manage to implement all of it. That is just normal. But to my liking, I turn to little of what I hear and read to practical use. So, this is a second area to change something (and of course linked to the first). There was one post I read, called "The one thing you need to do to become a top designer", and the answer was: Practice, practice, practice. Yes, I think that is very true! (not only for designers) And I want to live by it.

A third general thing is, I want to write and document more. This post is personal by it's very nature, but in future posts I would like to become less personal and hopefully manage to write things of use to other people. This could in some cases be personal things as well, but hopefully also some just technical. And then there's the "one resolution to rule them all" : Get better organized. I just read the first chapter of the above-mentioned GTD again, and find it is so true what Allen writes, and it is comforting to see that it is a common phenomenon. I tried to implement his system before, and to start with, it seemed to work well. I just had problems with the "weekly review" and ironically did not find the time and quiet to do this regularly. Also, at some point I had this thought "What do you want with these manager methods, this is overkill to organize your mummy/aspiring web developer life" - which, of course, is just b*ll****. It applies to everyone. What I do think is that I need to modifiy the methods. I will give it a go again. So, here to the (a little more) concrete plans:

Projects (of which not all definite yet):

  • Do one personal project, where I use new techniques or use already known ones in a better way. So far I am thinking of this: Create a portal for bi- or multilingual families with German as one of their languages. Use PHP for overall navigation, user login, and accessing member information (probably just email). Try YUI (reset, fonts and grids) for the layout. Add some unobtrusive jQuery. And - optimise for mobile. But the content! Well, I will, at least initially, supply some. I have left the Saturday school committee, so I guess I can devote a little time. Part of the content will be from already existing sites. For example I can access the database of the Spielgruppe and pull a random cake recipe (Real cake, not the framework) to the homepage. Who needs APIs?
  • Make little changes to last paid-for website
  • Work on a Uni web site
  • Website for a company in Germany
  • Two websites for and artist and and illustrator (not at all clear when!)

 

Work at an agency! (if only a short time)

 

Learning:

  • Learn PHP more in depth, use a framework
  • experiment with APIs
  • Create aesthetically pleasing websites, OR if not aesthetically pleasing it has to be deliberate -> I want to at least be able to create aesthetically pleasing websites; they might look the same as lots of other websites, but then if you open a book, it looks like other books; it's about facilitiating that peoople can take in the content and move around confidently

 

Community:

  • Go to at least one conference and one networking meeting (like Media Tuesday. Scary!). Also continue to go to Silverstripe Meet-Ups that have a talk, and maybe go to one Web Standard Meet-Up in London.
  • Perhaps set up Web Standards Meetup in Bristol!! Not very likely, this is a bonus target if I have managed to feel integrated into the "community" and feel a professional! 

So, this post might get amended a bit over the next few days, and I could write so much more - but that might become blog posts of their own. Anyway, now I have put down some of the things I would like to achieve over the next year. It might all turn out vastly different, who knows.

This post was written 12 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: webdev / gtd /

1st UK Silverstripe meetup

This post was written 12 years ago.
Mon, 07 Sep 2009

Thursday, 3 September 09: Off to my first ever Meetup, 120 miles from where I live. Crazy? Maybe, but it is on a topic I am really interested in, and so far I don't know anybody whom to talk about it properly : SilverStripe, a new CMS that has become my preferred choice for making websites.

It was all worthwile, some of the reasons being:

  • Met some interesting and enthusiastic people to talk about web design/development in general, and SilverStripe in particular
  • Got confirmation that SilverStripe is a really good system
  • Also got to know about some of its limitations
  • Heard about some new devlopments

There was a good mix of people, mostly from the London area. My fear had been that everybody would be 10 years younger than me and/or have 10 years more experience with web design and development. Neither was the case. There was a considerable number of people who have children and one who was to become a father for the first time, and all of these, I reckon, were about my age. Regarding experience, there were some people who weren't actually professional web designers, but just use SilveStripe for their own or their spouse's or friends' websites. But then, there were some very experienced people as well. I found it valuable hearing from them how they use Silverstripe and when they don't use it (for example, ecommerce sites).

The meeting was organised by three members of the company GPMD who specialise in Silverstripe websites, mainly by Richard Johnson. Mark Slocock founded the company 10 years ago with a partner. He explained how he had built his own CMS that the company then used for building websites. But as he had come across Silverstripe he realised "it was 5 years ahead" compared to his own system. This, he said, made it an easy decision for him to abandon his own system and switch to Silverstripe.

I also talked to Jamie Neil, who works at GPMD, too. He has a degree in Computer Science and worked in various IT roles before joining GPMD. I asked him why SilverStripe wasn't more popular. "Mainly, because it is a very young system. But there are strong communities in New Zealand and Australia." To not give a wrong impression, there were not only people from GPMD present. Jeff van Campen, who has organised the London Web Standards Meetup for a year, is a web designer especially interested in user design/interface design. He is thinking of re-desining his own website with SilverStripe. He also said it was surprisingly difficult to find venues for these meetups in London.

The pub where this meeting took place, by the way, was not bad, it had a seperate area where we could sit, but the music was a bit loud at times. My suggestion would be to have the next meeting at Bristol! I think there must have been around 20 people at the meeting. Some left quite early, not long after I arrived (got there 45 minutes late). I liked the fact that it was a relatively small group. Generally, as mentioned before, there is not such a strong user base in the UK yet.

There would be more people to mention and more of the conversations, of course. I just wanted to give a glimpse of the meeting. To round up this post, a list of new and old conclusions about:

Why I love Silverstripe

  • Easy to use for the end user/client
  • HTML/CSS is completely independent, you can have any layout you want
  • Customizing the CMS is done through PHP code, not through a user interface
  • PHP is very well structured, all based on PHP5, capsuled functionality, easy to build on and extend
  • Enthusiastic community ready to help with questions

For me it is both a very versatile tool for building applications (I have just built one for teachers, for discussing and publishing lesson plans online), and a good way to improve my PHP! If you use SilverStripe and live in or near Bristol, please do get in touch. For the moment, I am happy to go to London for the next meetup!


This post was written 12 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: silverstripe /