Archive: December, 2004


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Sunday, December 19th, 2004

Home for the holidays

I’m off to greener pastures. In fact, the pastures don’t get much greener than where I’m headed. I’m going to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Ireland.

I’ll post some updates here if I get the chance but I’ll mostly be diligently relaxing, having some Murphy’s, playing some tunes and generally taking it easy.

Wherever you happen to find yourself, have a happy, peaceful Christmas this year. Nollaig Shona duit!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

Just my type

I made a trip up to London today. I just happened to be in the vicinity of Regent Street so I popped into the new Apple store. It’s quite a stunning shop and I was, needless to say, in my element.

But I’m not going to gush on about all things Mac-related. Instead, I wanted to mention something that has struck me every time I’m in the capital and specifically, when I’m using public transport:

I really, really like the typeface that London Transport use on all the tube stations and bus stops in London.

I always assumed it was a fairly modern design just because it has such a contemporary feel to it. But recently I was watching the original version of The Ladykillers from 1955 and I spotted the very same typeface in the background (I’m not the only movie type-spotter).

I did a little research and found out that the typeface was actually commissioned by Frank Pick way back in 1916. It’s the work of one Edward Johnston in whose name a foundation has been formed. The typeface was slightly tweaked in 1980 but it has been more or less in constant use for almost 90 years.

The collaboration of Pick and Johnston must have been a match made in heaven. They also gave us the superb London Underground roundel.

Frank Pick’s philosophy is clear from this quote:

"The test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it better; it will only become more expensive and more foolish."

I bet Jonathan Ive has that on a post-it note somewhere.

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

Customer feedback


Using your website, I was able to find exactly the flight I wanted: a return trip from London Gatwick to Austin, Texas in March 2005. However, I was unable to use the ebookers website to book the flight.

The reason why I couldn’t make my booking is down to some sloppily coded JavaScript validation. When I entered my year of birth in the format requested (YYYY), I was told that my year of birth was greater than the present year. I though that perhaps the on-screen instructions might have been inaccurate and that the year actually needed to be entered in a two digit format (YY) but this produced a message saying that the year provided must be greater than 1900.

Obviously I don’t want to give false personal information just to bypass some bad JavaScript. That still leaves me with a few options:

1) Turn off JavaScript (thereby running the risk of missing some genuinely useful form validation).

2) Make my booking via telephone (without the benefit of SSL).

3) Go to a different website.

I’m afraid option number three looks the simplest solution right now. Sorry :-(

For your information my browser is Safari 1.2.4 on OS X version 10.3.6.

Might I make the suggestion that any show-stopping form validation on your site be done on the server, rather than the client?


Jeremy Keith

Thursday, December 9th, 2004

Man brands band with slap-dash Flash

Everybody and their dog has been linking to a blog post entitled “five mistakes that band and label sites make”.

There are some good suggestions listed. Making sure that MP3s have complete metadata is certainly a good tip. It’s also a no-brainer that there should be a clearly visible contact link (although this also applies to just about any website).

Mind you, some of the advice (“Too artsy, too fartsy”,”Search”) makes me think that the whole usability thing can sometimes be taken to extremes. Art-related websites (for bands, movies, etc.) are not necessarily all about swift access to information.

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly believe that the important questions - “WHERE are you playing?”, “WHAT do you sound like?”, “HOW can I get in touch?” - should be clearly visible and accessible from anywhere on a band’s site. But when it comes to the more nebulous questions - “WHERE are you coming from?”, “WHAT are your influences?” - I don’t believe that a bullet pointed mission statement is necessarily the best way of answering them. Often it’s more important that an atmosphere is conveyed. A good website should provide visitors with a feeling for the band and its music instead of just stating cold hard facts.

Matt Haughey lists out some of his favourite band websites that avoid all five of the aforementioned mistakes. But all of the sites he links to have a very standardised, bloggy kind of feel to them. They provide quick and easy access to information (good) but they convey all the personality of a corporate website (bad).

When it came to building the Salter Cane website, I tried hard to get the balance right. You can judge for yourself whether or not I succeeded.

The most timely information - concert dates, etc. - is listed right on the front page of the site. The most important links - MP3 downloads, a contact form - appear on every page of the site.

The heart of the site is Flash-based. There are images of band members, a slideshow of random lyrics and streaming songs. But none of that is vital information. It exists purely to complement the feeling of the music. You can get concert information, download MP3s and get in touch with the band without ever seeing the Flash stuff. But if you explore the Flash area you’ll have a better idea of what the band is about.

I can certainly see the need to take it easy on the Flash. This quote is great:

“Use Flash like you would cilantro - sparingly and for a single high-impact effect. Nobody wants to eat a whole bowl of cilantro.”

At the same time, I wouldn’t want Jakob Nielsen to be in charge of designing my band’s website.

Now what I really need to do is provide an RSS feed of Salter Cane news. It’s the killer app, don’chya know?

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Another man's tweaks

Pete has made some nifty little additions to his site. He’s added some toggle-able layers for his music and his photos (the Listening and Flickr links, respectively). They’re kind of like Dunstan’s panorama information panel. Very nice.

Dan Cederholm has also been making adjustments to his site. In his case though, it’s been more a process of subtraction:

"I’ve removed the icons from the navigation. The site as a whole was in danger of being consumed by icons. Icons everywhere. So I thought I’d strip down the design, and let it flow around the work, rather than force the work into the design."

He’s right. Now the few icons that are left are nicely distributed and the site feels more tasteful all ‘round.

He’s also added a little widget so that the viewer can toggle between fixed and liquid layouts, which is an excellent addition. The liquid layout isn’t perfect (the negative space between columns doesn’t change as the page is resized) but it’s great to have both options.

If, after visiting Dan’s site, you decide that you really like that shade of blue in his header image, you might want to download a desktop image called October Sky.

Monday, December 6th, 2004

Word to the wise

For a long time I’ve resisted using Microsoft’s ubiquitous word-processing software. Recently however, circumstances dictated that I simply had to get a copy of Word.

When Jessica and I went to the Mac Expo in London a few weeks ago, we were both interested in having a chat with the representatives from Microsoft. She was interested in upgrading her existing suite of Office programs (which came with a single-user licence which rules out me using her copy). I was interested in just getting a standalone copy of Word for Mac.

Now, since originally purchasing her Office suite, Jessica has started studying again at the University of Sussex. Microsoft offer a version of Office 2004 for students and teachers that costs considerably less than the standard edition. It also costs considerably less than the standalone Word application.

At the Mac Expo we had a chat with one of the Microsoft people. He listened to us explain what we were looking for. He had just one question which he asked cautiously:

"Um… married?"

We responded in the affirmative whereupon he told us that our problems were solved.

It turns out that the student and teacher edition of Office 2004 comes with three licences. Not only that, but those licences can be used by anyone in the same household as the student or teacher who actually purchases the software.

This information came straight from the horse’s mouth which is just as well because you’d never find out from the horse’s website.

One short trip to Amazon later and Jessica and I are both sorted. I now have a full suite of Microsoft applications running on both my Macs. The lamb lies down with the lion… well, Panther in this case.

Anyway, if you or anyone you know is looking to buy Microsoft’s Office suite and you happen to live under the same roof as a student or teacher, you can save a pretty penny. Pass it on.

Thursday, December 2nd, 2004

Odious Odeon

Remember the kerfuffle about the Accessible Odeon service that Matthew Somerville created so that anyone could check their local cinema listings?

In a nutshell, Odeon decided that money was better spent on getting lawyers to shut down that service rather than investing in actually improving their dreadful website. To be fair, they did eventually tackle the accessibility issue. Unfortunately, they decided to ghettoise people with disabilities by providing "separate but equal" style segregation.

Well, it would appear that the internet views the Odeon site as damage and is routing around it. A new accessible alternate listings site has sprung up. It has also spawned a Perl module so that anyone can build their own accessible cinema listings.

Local developer Stephen Ticehurst has used this Perl module to create an RSS feed of today’s films at the Odeon Brighton. It’s very clever and it’s very useful.

Keep it under your hat though.

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004

Back from Baltimore

I’m back in Brighton after a fairly short and painless jet-stream aided journey from Baltimore.

I had a grand old time. I didn’t take all that many pictures and the ones I did take were often in low-light/high-alcohol situations. Still, here are some snapshots of the wedding weekend.

Dan and Sue’s wedding was great. The hall where they pledged their troth is also home to the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe. After the ceremony, tours of the catacombs were available just to lend that extra heaping of perspective. The spookiness of the crypt was somewhat offset by the sounds of the bluegrass band playing in the hall above. I can only imagine what the ghosts that supposedly haunt the grounds thought of the hits of the 70s and 80s that the DJ rolled out to get everyone up on their feet.

Needless to say, while I was in Baltimore, I made sure to indulge myself with the fine food and drink on offer in the city: that would mostly be crab cakes and Natty Boh.

Jeremy and Jessica at Dan and Sue\'s wedding