Probably old news by now but Last.fm has been acquired by CBS, who I hope are not evil. The good news is that our favourite music site is staying in London. Rock on, FMers.
Wednesday, May 30th, 2007
Tuesday, May 29th, 2007
I'm sure everyone else has already discovered this but I really was L'ing O L when I read the "Hai world" code.
Saturday, May 26th, 2007
@media San Francisco 2007
Before this week, Jesse James Garrett was known for many things. His name was associated a style of diagrams, a book about The Elements of User Experience, and of course he coined the term Ajax. But from on, the name Jesse James Garrett will remind me of just one thing.
He opened up proceedings at @media here in San Francisco. I was sitting in the front row next to Joe. Joe leaned over and said “His fly is open.” My immediate thought was “I must Twitter this.” My second thought was “How am I going to subtly let Jesse know.” Joe solved that dilemma by simply declaring for all to hear, “Jesse, your fly is undone.”
Surely that must be a nightmare scenario for any speaker. Now that Jesse has lived the dream and played out the scenario, I feel it only fair to we commemorate and honour that contribution. From now on, if you hear my refer to someone doing a JJG, you’ll know what I mean.
Having recovered from his wardrobe malfunction, Jesse proceeded to deliver a superb and inspiring presentation. Amazingly, the high quality set by his talk was maintained for the entire conference (only plunging when I took to the stage).
Seriously, the quality of the presentations was staggeringly good, not just in times of subject matter but also delivery and execution. I would be very, very hard-pressed to choose a favourite though I probably got the most from Richard Ishida’s eye-opening discussion of internationalisation issues (a thread that ran through a number of presentations).
The real highlight of the conference program for me was undoubably the closing hot topics panel. Once again I had the privilege of playing Letterman to a stellar line of panelists: Joe Clark, Cameron Moll, Andy Clarke and Tantek Çelik. Boy, did they ever deliver the goods! The tone veered from comedy to tragedy with everything in-between By the end of an hour that passed by far too quickly, I felt that I had been party to something very special.
I thanked all the panelists afterwards but I just want to do it again in public so… thank you guys.
While I was at XTech in Paris, Ian Forrester took me aside for an interview about microformats. Here's the video of our little chat.
This is a great idea: a pre hack day wiki to coordinate skills and share ideas.
Thursday, May 24th, 2007
It’s the day before @media America and I’ve been making the most of what San Francisco has to offer. That doesn’t mean I’ve been a culture vulture, exploring museums and sits of historical interest. Instead I’ve been meeting up with fellow geeks and observing them in their natural habitat.
I went by the Flickr offices yesterday. It was somewhat, um, whacky. Within five minutes of my being there, a full-blown rubber rocket fight erupted. This sort of thing is, apparently, a perfectly normal occurence.
I liberated Paul, Cal and Dunstan (yes, he’s alive and well, honest) for a short break in the sunshine. They spent the entire time reminiscing about crappy English things that are hard to come by in San Francisco—like fried breakfasts and maltesers (that’s not a serving suggestion). What a bunch of sad bastards!
After a late night of microformat geekiness with Tantek, I went over to the offices of Six Apart. They had very kindly invited me to come by and see what they’ve been working on for the next (imminent) release of Movable Type. I had a lot of fun talking with them about code, user testing and community. I wish I could tell you everything they told me but my lips are sealed on a big announcement that’s coming. All will be revealed on June 5th.
From there, it was a short stroll to the Technorati offices to regroup with Tantek and continue the microformats mission together with Erin Caton, flown in fresh from Vancouver. We left the Technorati hub (which was, as might be expected, buzzing on the day of its freshly-launched redesign) and set up camp at Caffe Centro in South Park.
After a productive afternoon of coffee and wiki-editing, the coup de grace was visiting the offices of Twitter. I’m such a fanboy that I was practically squealing with delight at the mere thought seeing the home of ambient intimacy. The fact that all the people there were absolutely lovely was the icing on the cake.
After a day like that, I feel like a kid that’s been let loose in a toy shop.
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
Use jQuery? Use a mac? Here's a handy dashboard reference.
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007
Mark your calendars. If you can make it Chicago in August, I'll see you at An Event Apart. I think this is going to be a lot of fun.
Eric explores the dark cabbalistic world of attempting to style form controls. This explains why he doesn't use the universal selector for resetting default styles.
My mission while I'm in San Franciso is to get a hold of a copy of this book for Jessica. 25 Punk, Rock, and Goth Knitting Projects.
Sunday, May 20th, 2007
A few people have asked me lately if I could send them the slides from presentations I’ve given. I’m more than happy to pass on the slides but I feel I have to add a big caveat: they don’t make much sense out of context. With that said, here are some PDFs exported from Keynote (and despite Joe’s feelings on the matter, all of these presentations are licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license):
- The Beauty in Standards and Accessibility from the Web 2.0 Expo. See the additional reading material to go with this one.
- Ajax from a seminar I gave in Dublin recently.
- Microformats: the nanotechnology of the semantic web from XTech 2007. Here’s the reading list to go with that one.
I’ve found myself developing a certain style in my presentation slides. I avoid bullet points like the plague. Often the most effective slides are the ones with a single word or image.
Something else that you don’t get from the PDFs is the arrow of the time. I like to gradually layer up my slides rather than presenting everything at once. I like the way that Keynote allows me to introduce words as I’m introducing ideas. I only ever use one transition: dissolve. I find it has a soothing feel to it.
I’ve also found myself using typography to communicate. The position, relative size and colour of the words can really help to explain a concept. Combined with the disolve effect, that’s pretty much all I need. I’ll throw in the occasional image where necessary (usually gleaned from the advanced search on Flickr where I can specify Creative Commons licensed content) but mostly I stick to the same formula: large greyscale tightly-kerned bold Helvetica Neue.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of speaking lately and there’s a fair bit still to come. Whenever I’m asked to speak on a subject that I’ve spoken about in the past, I’m perched on the horns of a dilemma. Should I create an entirely new presentation or should I recycle old material?
I don’t like the idea of giving the same presentation more than once. At the same time, if I know from experience that I can make a point clearly, shouldn’t I go ahead and do that even if it means repeating something from an earlier presentation?
Usually, I compromise. I recycle some tried and tested parts of previous presentations but add something new. It all depends on the circumstances: if I’m being paid well to deliver a presentation, then I feel obligated to come up with something entirely original… though I’ll still end up recycling a good slide or two if I know they’ll work well. But it’s important to remember that the payment for speaking is not just for the 45 or 60 minutes that you’re on stage: it’s for all the preparation time too.
Next week, I’ll be in San Francisco for @media America. The subject of my talk is Bulletproof Ajax—a topic on which I’ve presented many times before. This conference is being run on a fairly tight budget so I don’t feel obliged to come up with an entirely original talk. At the same time, I don’t want to repeat verbatim a talk I’ve given in the past. In this age of podcasts—and I try actively to transcribe as many as I can—I don’t want any audience member to think “Hey, this sounds kinda familiar.” But without the financial renumeration required for an entirely new talk, what’s a speaker to do?
In the end, as always, the final result is compromise. Some of the material I’ll be presenting in San Francisco will be new but some of it will be road-tested. I’m fairly confident that hardly anybody in the audience will have seen me present this stuff before but I still can’t help feel a pang of guilt.
But, y’know, the real reason why I’m out there talking about Ajax or microformats or whatever, is because I want the message to reach as many people as possible. Sometimes that means that I have to repeat myself. I feel bad about that. But even in this connected age, a certain amount of redunancy is probably inevitable.
Anyway, I’ve more or less got my slides ready for @media America. I’ve still got a few days to agonise over them so maybe they will change drastically before the day of the presentation dawns. Right now, I should probably prepare for my trip from England to California. An eleven our flight in the economy class belly of a United Airlines flight awaits. Tomorrow I’ll get the hellbus to Heathrow where I can try asking “I can has bulkhead or exit rowz?” After that, the only decision I’ll have to make is choosing between “I can has chicken” or “I can has beef.”
Saturday, May 19th, 2007
A very handy little app that sits in your menu bar on OS X and can instantly show you how your screen would look if you were colour blind.
This is the ultimate geek gadget: a projector in the shape of R2D2. I want one!
Wintec WBT-201 Bluetooth Data Logger GPS Receiver (Auto on/off, WAAS, Bluetooth, USB, Push to Log, Google Earth Integration with Photo) (Bonus Bottle Cap Tripod) (Your Choice of Free Mount)
I gotta get me one of these. Just think of the mashup potential!
Pausing for breath is for pussies. Simon's slides illustrate how to pack everything including the OpenID kitchen sink into 45 minutes.
Whoosh! That's the sound of productivity being left behind. After ten years, Starcraft 2 is finally here. Simultaneous release for Mac and PC.
I say, bally jerry pranged his cabbage crate right in my how's your father into the drink.
Microformats 1:01—Exporting microformats via bluetooth
The video is one minute and one second long. It’s a quick demo of John McKerrell’s bluetooth version of the Tails plugin.
- Watch the video on YouTube.
- Watch it on Viddler.
- Here it is on Vimeo.
- Download the video from the Internet Archive.
Here’s a transcript of the 1:01 minutes of video:
This is my website. This is my mobile phone. My website has microformats. This is a version of the Tails plugin for Firefox. It exposes all the microformats I have on my website. I can convert and export those microformats as vcard, iCal, whatever I want. With this version of the plugin I can also export to bluetooth. So let’s take an event for example. I click on bluetooth. My computer asks me which device to export to. I have previously paired up my phone. So now I’m going to send the event to that device. And there we go. I have now exported from the World Wide Web onto my mobile phone. Easy!
The video is released under a Creative Commons attribution license. You are free to share, remix, caption and translate this video (as long as you provide attribution).
XTech 2007, day three
The last day of Xtech rolled around and… whaddya mean “what happened to day two?” They can’t have a conference in Paris and not expect me to take at least one day off to explore the city.
So I skipped the second day of XTech and I’m sure I missed some good presentations but I spent a lovely day with Jessica exploring the streets and brasseries of Paris.
Ah, Paris! (uttering this phrase must always be accompanied by the gesture of flinging one arm into the air with abandon)
The conference closed today with a keynote from Matt Webb. It was great: thought-provoking and funny. It really drove home the big take-away message from XTech for me this year which is that hacking on hardware now is as easy as software.
I can has Arduino?
Thursday, May 17th, 2007
John answers some questions about microformats.
Further reading on the nanotechnology of the semantic web
For those of you who attended my XTech talk yesterday (and, indeed, for those of you who didn’t), here are a few jumping off points I mentioned:
- microformats.org is the motherlode, home to the wiki where you can find documentation for microformats.
- microformats-discuss is the mailing list where there’s plenty of chat about existing microformats.
- Technorati Microformats Search is still in beta but it’s a nice example of a microformats search engine.
- Operator is the superb plug-in for Firefox that exposes and exports microformats.
- John Allsopp’s book on microformats is a must-have.
- Cork’d is the wine review site that’s filled with microformats, effectively giving it a read-only API (here’s my profile).
- Brian Suda has plenty of code, a cheat sheet and a PDF book on microformats.
- Engins of Creation by Eric Drexler.
- The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson.
- Harry Kroto
- Buckminsterfullerene, nanobots and grey goo.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2007
XTech 2007, day one
I’ve been a very bad conference attendee. I slept in this morning ‘till 11am and missed the opening keynotes. I was looking forward to seeing what Adam Greenfield had to say but I guess I was more tired than I realised.
By the time I made it over to the conference venue, the morning sessions were wrapping up so I had lunch for breakfast. Once I was all caffeined up, I started getting ready for my talk.
I gave a presentation called microformats: the nanotechnology of the semantic web. I enjoyed myself and I think other people did too. I might have pushed the nanotech anology too far but I got a kick out of talking about buckyballs and grey goo. I talked for a bit longer than I was planning so I didn’t have as much time for questions as I would have liked but I also think I managed to anticipate a lot of questions during the talk anyway.
I should have really stuck around in the same room after my talk to listen to a presentation on RDFa and GRIDDL but I dashed next door to hear Gavin’s presentation on provenance. I loved this. He’s thinking about a lot of the same things that I have in terms of lifestreams and portable social networks but whereas I just talk about this stuff, he’s gone and built some proof-of-concept to illustrate how it’s possible today to join up the dots of identity online. I really wish he was coming to Hack Day.
Speaking of Hack Day (it’s just a month away now), I fully expect to see plenty of hacking on hardware going on. Before XTech, this was unknown territory for me but I know I’d really like to roll up my sleeves and get hacking (and I haven’t even heard what Matt Webb has to say yet).
Today I was introduced to a piece of hardware with a difference: the Nabaztag—a WiFi-enabled rabbit with flashing lights and movable ears. I want one. The Nabaztag presentation also included the quote of the day for me:
If you can connect rabbits, you can connect nearly everything.
XTech 2007, day zero
I’ve been buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly lately. Last week I was over in Dublin for an Ajax seminar; the week before that I made a trip up to Rochdale for a workshop. Usually these trips involve an airplane at some stage of the journey and, while I don’t hate flying, the glamour of it has certainly worn off.
This week I’m in Paris for XTech 2007. I didn’t have to go anywhere near an airport or an airplane to get here. Myself, Andy, Jessica and Brian came over on the Eurostar. I know it’s not exactly a hi-tech mission impossible mode of transport any more but I’m still so thrilled to be able to get on a train in London and get off a few short hours later in Paris. The future is here and it doesn’t involve turbulence.
After a fun geek dinner on our first night, I got up bright and early to head over to the conference venue for registration. The conference proper doesn’t kick off ‘till Wednesday but it was preceded by a day of tutorials and a special ubicomp track. I went along to check this out and I found it all to be quite fascinating… though I’m not sure if I was even supposed to be there (there’s some byzantine system that explains who can get into what but I couldn’t follow it).
I caught the tail end of the first presentation which was by Dave Raggett. From the little I caught, it was stuff that would have gone way, way, way over my head. Dave then stuck around to ably steer the rest of the ubicomp talks.
Timo Arnall gave a superb presentation called Physical Hyperlinks comparing Bluetooth, SMS, RFID and barcodes. What really made this talk different was that he didn’t just talk about the technical aspects of each technology, he also examined the user experience and cultural nuances. Thought-provoking stuff.
A jetlagged Paul Hammond then told us all about location-based services and how the technology still sucks. I really like Paul’s pragmatic approach: at last year’s XTech, he pointed out the potential downsides to open data; this year, he outlined all the problems with geocoding. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of his insights was so blindingly obvious, it had me slapping my forehead: instead of trying to use machines to figure out where someone is, just ask them to tell you. That’s what Flickr did with their mapping interface: by dragging a photo onto a map, you’re telling the machine where you took the photo instead of the machine trying to extract geo information from your phone, camera, computer, or whatever.
Right after Paul, Matt Biddulph came on to talk about Second Life. But he didn’t stop there. He took the lessons of Second Life—quick and easy prototyping and hacking—and brought them into the real world, showing us how anyone can cheaply build real-world interactive objects. His enthusiasm is infectious and now I want to start making bluetooth-controlled toys just for the fun of it.
I skipped out the middle of the day to explore a bit of Paris with Jessica but I made sure to get back in time for Aaron Straup Cope’s talk on The Papernet: small pieces of paper loosely joined. Again, this was a very pragmatic presentation that pointed out the many advantages that a simple piece of paper has over a laptop or mobile phone. It all depends on context of course but there’s no denying the robustness and portability of plain ol’ paper. He also demoed some fun online toys that I’m going to try to find time to play with.
The day wrapped up with a talk from designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. Her perspective on things—coming from product design—was invaluable. This kind of interdisciplinary cross-pollination can really help to shake things up. It was a great way to wrap up the day.
So plenty of inspirational stuff was offered up and the conference hasn’t even officially kicked off yet. Considering the subject matter, it was ironic that the WiFi is more or less non-existant at the venue. C’est la vie. Fortunately the hotel where I’m staying has a free connection. That’s where I’m blogging from right now.
I think I’d better call it a night. I need to get some beauty sleep so that I’m in a fit state to give my presentation tomorrow. If you’re at XTech and you’re curious about microformats, come along tomorrow right after lunch. À bientôt.
Tuesday, May 15th, 2007
I just started subscribing to JPG magazine. Now I'm going to cancel my subscription. This is really sad.
Sunday, May 13th, 2007
Redesigns a go-go
Redesigns are like buses: you need to wear clean underwear in case you get hit by one. No, hang on: You wait for one for ages, then loads come along at once… yeah, that’s what I meant.
Paul has been busy since leaving Oxford for his new job in London. He’s been marking up the new design for the front page of The Guardian website. This is a nice refreshing change for the paper’s site, making really good use of colour and typography in a pleasing grid. It’s a bit wide for my taste but at least most of the content that gets cut off at 800 pixels is mostly marketing guff (with the exception of the search at the top of the page: shame that the header couldn’t be liquid even if the rest of the page stays fixed).
Don’t worry: I’m not that much of a zealot that I’m going to judge designs purely based on whether they’re fixed width or liquid. But if you want to see a great example of a hybrid design, check out what Patrick has been doing with the ongoing design of his site: the third column drops below the second when the window width gets narrow—a smooth adaptive technique I first saw pioneered in a previous incarnation of Colly’s site.
Speaking of kick-ass Brit designers hailing from North of the Watford gap, Malarkey has redesigned his site. Actually, he’s done more than that. He’s condensed his two sites—business and personal—into one. You can read all about the ins and outs of the redesign but I recommend having a little poke around the site first to see how many delightful little Easter eggs you can spot.
There’s a ton of really nice little touches. Obviously the superb illustrations by Kevin really stand out but did you also notice that all the borders between columns are hand-drawn in pencil? Needless to say, the typography is uniformly excellent. Oh, and see if you can figure out how he managed to get two columns of text to flow around a single image on the front page.
Design is more than just visual appearance and Andy has pulled out all the stops in making sure that his personality comes across not just in the graphical elements but also in the copy. My favourite little touch is down in the footer:
That last link leads to a page that includes this great piece of advice:
Advisory notice: When you download something from the internet, don’t forget to put it back.
I haven’t been immune to the redesign bug. I finally got ‘round to making a long-overdue overhaul of the Salter Cane site.
The old Flash site served its purpose well. It was atmospheric and mysterious—mostly because we didn’t have anything much to say so atmosphere and mystery were all we wanted to communicate. Times have changed though. There’s a lot happening with the band: concerts, an album release, songs on iTunes and a general increase in activity. Time for the band members to get blogging.
That doesn’t mean I’ve ditched the atmosphere but I felt it was time to remove some of the mystery. The design itself came together very, very quickly—just a couple of days—and it isn’t finished yet. I still need to create pages for the individual band members, add an archive of past concerts and work on expanding the individual blog post pages. But the overall look and feel is all in place and I’m quite pleased with how it has turned out. It has a lighter touch than the previous design but still has a lot of that olde-worlde feeling.
It all works pretty nicely on my mobile phone which is a nice bonus. The front page is also a mini mashup, pulling in the latest posts from the band’s MySpace page and the latest pictures on Flickr tagged with “saltercane”. And, of course, there are microformats a-plenty.
I spent most of my efforts on getting the typography right, paying a lot of attention to Richard’s ideas about baselines and vertical rhythm. I’ve added a couple of touches using CSS selectors that not all browsers support—transcending CSS and all that malarkey. Safari users will get the nice
:first-letter styles (though I did have to shoot off a bug report to Dave Hyatt pointing out that the letter styled with the
:first-letter pseudo-class doesn’t scale when the user resizes the text size—but this might well be already fixed in the nightly builds of WebKit).
So all in all, it’s a busy time for redesigns. But wait, there’s more…
Keep your eye on the d.Constuct website over the next couple of days. Much as I love the current holding page, what’s coming is even better. Paul has been slaving away in the Clearleft office to make a site that really fits the theme of this year’s conference: designing the user experience. You can expect a fun-filled redesign.
When the d.Constuct site launches, you’ll be able to see for yourself what a great line-up we’ve got for the conference this year. I’m looking forward to it already. Don’t worry: tickets won’t be going on sale for quite a while yet but be sure to mark the date in your calendar: September 7th, 2007. On that day, Brighton is most definitely the place to be.
Friday, May 11th, 2007
This is so so childish but here you go: rude place names on Google Maps.
Malarkey's got a brand new bag... if by "bag" you mean "website". And a very nice bag it is too.
Thursday, May 10th, 2007
The front page of The Guardian website has been redesigned with some good use of typography and colour. Shame it's so wide though.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2007
How to make your own microformats t-shirt (if you live in Romania).
Tuesday, May 8th, 2007
Finally revealed: what Jeff has been working on since he moved into the lair of the Google. He's been making Google Analytics look and feel nicer.
Monday, May 7th, 2007
This article is a life-saver for me. I'm constantly having trouble with special characters when I'm backing up databases for local copies of my sites.
Sunday, May 6th, 2007
This is the first picture of Earth taken from space, specifically from a V2 rocket 60 miles up.
The good book
I’ve had a white iBook literally since the day they were first released. By today’s standards my first iBook was a primitive G3 affair. Since then I’ve upgraded to more powerful models but I’ve always had an iBook and I’ve always been more than happy the sturdiness and portability.
My last iBook is a few years old now and it’s beginning to show signs of laptop dementia. Intermittent freezing and kernel panics are telling me that it’s time to put the ol’ white thing out to pasture.
In the past I would have simply invested in a new iBook. That’s not an option anymore, more’s the pity. So I got myself a Macbook (well, technically it’s a Clearleft purchase but you know what I mean).
This looks like being a great machine—I’m certainly going to enjoy the larger hard drive, bigger screen and extra RAM—but I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness for the passing of the iBook era. Me and my little white Turing machines have been through a lot together; travelling to foreign climes and joining faraway networks.
Now it’s time to break in my pristine new Macbook. I’d better start collecting some sticker schwag. Flickr, Technorati, Creative Commons… if you guys want to some free advertising, just send some sticky love my way.
I’ve spent the last couple of days migrating all my data and operating system foibles over to the new laptop. Soon I’ll take it with me on the road and find out how it holds up.
The Macbook didn’t show up in time for a workshop I did in Rochdale last week so I borrowed Jessica’s iBook instead but I’ll giving the new Macbook its first field test at an Ajax seminar in Dublin next week. It’ll get a good workout this month when I lug it to Paris for XTech and San Francisco for @media (and maybe I’ll make it to Copenhagen for Reboot).
I’m sure it’ll feel weird at first, like wearing a new pair of shoes, but by the end of this month I hope to form a bond with my new portable computing device.
Friday, May 4th, 2007
Now when your satanic client tells you to make the logo bigger, you can always rock out.
Tuesday, May 1st, 2007
Here's a simple little way to blow off steam with some micro-updates. You can even do it from Twitter. Nice.