Tags: saltercane

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Amsterdam Brighton Amsterdam

I’m about to have a crazy few days that will see me bouncing between Brighton and Amsterdam.

It starts tomorrow. I’m flying to Amsterdam in the morning and speaking at this Icons event in the afternoon about digital preservation and long-term thinking.

Then, the next morning, I’ll be opening up the inaugural HTML Special which is a new addition the CSS Day conference. Each talk on Thursday will cover one HTML element. I am honoured to speaking about the A element. Here’s the talk description:

The world exploded into a whirling network of kinships, where everything pointed to everything else, everything explained everything else…

Enquire within upon everything.

I’ve been working all out to get this talk done and I finally wrapped it up today. Right now, I feel pretty happy with it, but I bet I’ll change that opinion in the next 48 hours. I’m pretty sure that this will be one of those talks that people will either love or hate, kind of like my 2008 dConstruct talk, The System Of The World.

After CSS Day, I’ll be heading back to Brighton on Saturday, June 18th to play a Salter Cane gig in The Greys pub. If you’re around, you should definitely come along—not only is it free, but there will be some excellent support courtesy of Jon London, and Lucas and King.

Then, the next morning, I’ll be speaking at DrupalCamp Brighton, opening up day two of the event. I won’t be able to stick around long afterwards though, because I need to skidaddle to the airport to go back to Amsterdam!

Google are having their Progressive Web App Dev Summit there on Monday on Tuesday. I’ll be moderating a panel on the second day, so I’ll need to pay close attention to all the talks. I’ll be grilling representatives from Google, Samsung, Opera, Microsoft, and Mozilla. Considering my recent rants about some very bad decisions on the part of Google’s Chrome team, it’s very brave of them to ask me to be there, much less moderate a panel in public.

You can still register for the event, by the way. Like the Salter Cane gig, it’s free. But if you can’t make it along, I’d still like to know what you think I should be asking the panelists about.

Got a burning question for browser/device makers? Write it down, post it somewhere on the web with a link back to this post, and then send me a web mention (there’s a form for you to paste in the URL at the bottom of this post).

100 word 096

It was another beautiful day in Sussex and the other Clearlefties made full use of it by going on a cross-country hike culminating with a well-earned beer’n’food stop in a pub.

I couldn’t join them though because I had band practice: three hours of hammering out Salter Cane songs. This time though, the hammering was a touch lighter. We’ve got a gig in The Greys pub coming up on Saturday, July 11th—come along!—and it’s not the most spacious of venues (to put it mildly) so we tried practicing a bit quieter than we normally would.

Still sounded great.

100 words 075

Today was a Salter Cane practice day. It was a good one. We tried throwing some old songs at our new drummer, Emily. They stuck surprisingly well. Anomie, Long Gone, John Hope …they all sounded pretty damn good. To be honest, Emily was probably playing them better than the rest of us.

It was an energetic band practice so by the time I got home, I was really tired. I kicked back and relaxed with the latest copy of Spaceflight magazine from the British Interplanetary Society.

Then I went outside and watched the International Space Station fly over my house.

100 words 061

I had band practice with Salter Cane today. It’s been ages since the last rehearsal. Our drummer, Emily, has been recovering from surgery on her foot, hence the hiatus.

I was sure that this practice would be a hard slog. Not only had we not played together for a long time, but we’re trying out a new rehearsal space too. Sure enough, there were plenty of technical difficulties that arose from trying to get things working in the new space. But I was pleasantly surprised by how the songs sounded. We were pretty tight. One might even say we rocked.

The Lost Lemonworld

When the always-excellent Radiolab podcast turned its attention to the subject of creativity and motivation in an episode called ‘Help?’, they spoke to Elizabeth Gilbert who reminisced about interviewing Tom Waits on this topic:

He was talking about how every song has a distinctive identity that it comes into the world with, and it needs to be taken in different ways. He said there are songs that you have to sneak up on like you’re hunting for a rare bird, and there are songs that come fully intact like a dream taken through a straw. There are songs that you find little bits of like pieces of gum you find underneath the desk, and you scrape them off and you put them together and you make something out of it.

And there are songs, he said, that need to be bullied. He said he’s been in the studio working on a song and the whole album is done and this one song won’t give itself over and — everyone’s gotten used to seeing him do things like this — he’ll march up and down the studio talking to the song, saying “The rest of the family is in the car! We’re all going on vacation! You coming along or not? You’ve got 10 minutes or else you’re getting left behind!”

Last year the New York Times ran a profile of The National, written while they were still recording the wonderful High Violet—my favourite album of last year. The piece circles around the ongoing problems the band were having trying to tame the song Lemonworld:

Since January they’d done it bright, done it drowsy, done it with violin parts overnighted from Australia by Padma Newsome, done it so many ways Bryce despaired, “It’s a riddle we can’t solve.”

This is exactly what we’ve been going through with Salter Cane. For about a year we had a song that had been defying us, stubbornly refusing to reach that breakthrough moment where it all seems to come together. We took a break from the song for a while and when we came back to it, we tried approaching it as a new piece. That seems to be working. It’s finally coming together.

In the end we realised that we trying to make the song into something bigger than it needed to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a song to be small and simple. That seems to be the case with Lemonworld:

Matt said afterward, “we tried so hard and it always seemed to fail as a rock song. It lost the charm of the ugly little demo. Now it’s the ugliest, worst-mixed, least-polished song on the record, and it took the longest to get there.”

I think that Lemonworld is a strong song. It even stands up to be being butchered by me on the bouzouki.

Lemonworld on Huffduffer

Delivering Sorrow

Hot on the heels of the work for St. Paul’s School, I’ve been tweaking the media queries for the Salter Cane website. I was switching the site over to using HTML5 structural elements anyway, so I figured I’d meddle with the CSS while I was at it.

Once again, the fact that the site was already using percentages made the process very straightforward. Depending on the viewport width, the layout changes from three columns to two columns to one column.

Salter Cane (1440) Salter Cane (1024) Salter Cane (760) Salter Cane (480)

And once again, I didn’t remove any content for small screen devices. The natural language navigation at the top of the page—now correctly ensconced in a nav element—really comes into its own in the linearised layout, allowing for quick access to different sections of the document.

The timing of all this optimisation is fortuitous. The second Salter Cane album has just been released: it’s called Sorrow.

It already has some fans. Shaun said:

The Truth Is Nothing sounds like Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Arcade Fire had a musical transporter accident. can’t stop listening to it.

Lachlan is equally enthusiastic. If you like what you hear, you can buy the physical album from CD Baby or buy the digital album from iTunes. It will be available on Spotify and Amazon soon.

All the songs are licensed under a Creative Commons attribution license which means that they are . I’m looking forward to seeing where they end up.

You can listen to the whole album on the Salter Cane site using a Flash MP3 player. The documentation for Audio Player reads:

To insert a player on the page, place an HTML element and give it a unique ID. This element will be replaced with a player. If the browser doesn’t support Audio Player, the element will not be replaced so use it to show alternative content (maybe a message telling the user to download Flash).

The example code looks like this:

<p id="audioplayer_1">Alternative content</p>
<script type="text/javascript">
AudioPlayer.embed("audioplayer_1", {soundFile: "file.mp3"});
</script>

But rather than using a P element, I used the HTML5 audio element:

<audio id="audioplayer_1" src="file.mp3" controls="controls" preload="none">
</audio>  
<script>  
AudioPlayer.embed("audioplayer_1", {soundFile: "file.mp3"});  
</script>

That way, browsers with Flash installed get the plugin while other devices—like, say, the iPhone, iPod and iPad—get the native audio player.

Audio

Whatever device you’re using, enjoy listening to Sorrow by Salter Cane.

2010-06-25

On Friday, June 25th, three things will happen:

  1. Clearleft will spend the day having some lomography fun around Brighton with Lomokev.
  2. Salter Cane will play a rocking concert with Caramel Jack upstairs at The Prince Albert pub on Trafalgar Street.
  3. HTML5 For Web Designers will begin shipping—the book written by me, edited by Mandy, designed by Jason and published by Zeldman.

HTML5 For Web Designers

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:

If you need help using this site, please consult our help page. If you need help using our help page, download our How to use help PDF (what’s a download?)

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.

Salter Cane on screen 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-line and :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.

Bringing it all back home

Given how much I travelled last year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m leading some sort of transient lifestyle. But Brighton is where I spend most of my time and quite often it’s as eventful here as anywhere else on the globe.

There’s the renowned Brighton music scene, for example. I’ll be contributing to its vibrant ecosystem next month. Salter Cane will be playing a concert at The Joogleberry Playhouse on February 25th, which is, incidentally, my birthday. If you’re in town, come along and celebrate. You can add your name on Upcoming or Last FM.

On March 2nd, I’ll be giving an Ajax workshop. I’ve given workshops before in London, Manchester and Sydney. This time I’ll be doing it on home territory. Not only will it be in Brighton, it will be in the Clearleft office building, right in the middle of the trendy North Laine. If you’re interested in coming along (and helping me celebrate the release of Bulletproof Ajax), sign up before February 12 to get the early bird discount—£100 off the full price!