Blog Archive for 2011

  • "Meh" to AV

    There are four months left before Britain goes to the polls to decide whether to adopt the Alternative Vote system, and already the #yes2av and #no2av campaigns are hotting up on Twitter.

  • The Rise and Fall of LiveJournal

    Once upon a time, accounts on blogging site LiveJournal were precious commodities indeed – the site gave out invites for its members to use, but there was no public sign-up page. I got my invite in the autumn of 2003 thanks to sasahara (Account active 2003-2009) from the IRC channel that I frequented at the time.

  • Autonomous Quadrocopter: What and Why?

    It’s now been two years since I last did any work involving autonomous vehicles, and I’m kind of disappointed by the lack of that kind of work. Writing software for big data acquisition systems is all well and good, but it lacks a certain something – I just don’t get attached to them in the way that I do to vehicles such as this one.

  • The Flow

    So I spent my day caffeinated up to the eyeballs, loud music playing, churning out documentation until I started spamming Twitter with all-caps weirdness and I started wanting the phrase “COFFEE FOR THE COFFEE GOD! MUGS FOR THE MUG THRONE!” emblazoned on my coffee mug and, frankly, my soul. (Thanks @Bobolequiff.)

  • Pictures from my Home Town

    It’s the end of a remarkably peaceful weekend. Mornings have been relaxed, afternoons fun, bedtimes trouble-free. A can’t remember a weekend where Joseph had fewer tantrums and I had less stress weighing me down. It’s half past ten on Sunday night and, for the first time in memory, I don’t find myself secretly relishing the prospect of peace and quiet at work tomorrow. For possibly the first time since I became a father, I really would rather be staying at home.

  • Inbox Many

    There’s been a recent increase in productivity-related posts on Lifehacker, so inspired by that I thought I’d share how I “get things done”, and hopefully swap tips with others!

  • The Pulse

    Another afternoon of high-volume Pendulum and high-caffeine brain, blazing through work on one screen while flicking my attention over two others. Two news pages and four Twitter lists are open, poised. They all refresh automatically, but each time my eyes focus on them I reach for the manual refresh button purely on instinct.

  • Johannes Kepler and the Fabric Mice

    Cover of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"Joseph has a book called “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” which intersperses the lyrics of the famous nursery rhyme with pages in which fabric mice contemplate their place in the universe.  One of the pages which particularly strikes a chord with me has a mouse looking up at the night sky and wondering “are there stars for us all up there, or do some folks have to share?”.  I’m not sure Joseph is as enthused as I am about the answer to that question – that not only is there a star for every human being (and mouse) on Earth, but that in just the observable portion of the universe we have about 10 galaxies each – a total of around 100 trillion stars for every single one of us. [Wikipedia]

  • The End of an Experiment

    A year and a half ago, off the back of a holiday that was largely caffeine-free, I decided to bite the bullet and ditch my high caffeine intake for a life of tea. Up until that point, I was getting through around four cups of instant coffee a day at work, and suffering for it on the weekends – I’d forget to keep my Saturday caffeine intake as high as my weekday intake, and by Saturday lunchtime the headaches would have set in. I frequently solved that problem with Red Bull, which in turn often left me feeling sick for the rest of the afternoon.

  • The فراشة Effect

    Two months ago, a young Tunisian vegetable-seller killed himself in protest when officials in his home town of Sidi Bouzid prevented him from selling his wares on the street.

  • Joseph Renton, Scientist

    Today, Joseph has been mostly asking for metal things, so that he can test their ferromagnetic properties. With a magnetic giraffe. He has already discovered that things the giraffe attaches to are always metal, but that there are some metals to which it will not attach.

  • Madness and the TableModel

    What follows is a lengthy rant about a particularly annoying situation in some of my code. Programmers, please let me know - is it the toolkit that is mad, or is it me? Everyone else, feel free to skip it! :)

  • UX is in the Radio

    This morning, on the daily hour-long moan-fest we call “commuting”, we engaged in our normal pattern of radio use – working our way across the entire spectrum several times, not finding anything particularly appealing, before at last settling on the least annoying option. Then, a minute and a half later once that one not-too-bad song had finished, repeating the whole cycle again.

  • SuccessWhale: Considering the Reply UI

    What was once my simple Twitter client, SuccessWhale, is undergoing a lot of changes in the build-up to version 2. One of the biggest changes is the support for multiple services, of which Facebook is the first to be integrated. This, combined with the Twitter website’s new design, brings into question SuccessWhale’s “reply” UI.

  • Debt Rating for the Internet Age

    With the recent financial crisis, and unrest in the Middle East and north Africa, there has been much talk in the news of changes to countries’ debt ratings – usually for the worse. But their scale, not to put too fine a point on it, is mad.

  • In Search of Source Control's Holy Grail (part 2)

    Hello opinionated lazyweb denizens!  Let’s see if you can help resolve today’s office quandry (or at the very lest, tell us that we suck and we’re doing it all wrong).

  • When Science met Big Society

    Yesterday’s announcement that the Arts and Humanities Research Council will, on pain of losing funding, devote a “significant” amount of time to studying the notion of “Big Society” is frankly shocking. If it is indeed true, it smacks of incredible egotism on the part of the government.

  • Data and the Generation Gap

    I returned to my parents’ house after my final year at university approximately an eternity ago* to discover that they had at last entered the Cretaceous and acquired a broadband internet connection. I was less than impressed with the limits imposed on this connection, though - it came with a measly 1GB monthly data limit, which of course for them was perfectly adequate. I don’t know how much they get through these days (and I’m willing to bet they don’t either), but I suspect their 1GB limit is still firmly in place.

  • Preaching and the Defence Industry Choir

    CertificateThis week at work has largely been taken up by a Usability training course, borne out of the HMI team’s desire to have at least some sort of formal training in the area, rather than just being chucked in a team together because we were the only people that gave a damn that users liked using our software.

  • In Praise of Disjointed Communities

    Prime Minister David Cameron is set to make a speech on immigration today which, to the very vocal displeasure of Vince Cable and doubtless many Lib Dems, is designed to appeal to the core and right of the Conservative party. According to the BBC article:

  • The Platform Blues

    Hearts sink as the display updates from showing wildly inaccurate times to showing Delayed, Delayed, Delayed from top to bottom. “Signalling fault at Bournemouth”, it says, and we know then that all hope is lost.

  • Of Abandonment and Starlight

    Winfrith’s “Starlight” children’s nursery has always struggled to stay open despite a lack of demand for its services.  After one of many closures, it opened again late last year – only to close again in February after one of its staff was arrested (though never charged).  Now it is abandoned again, closed for the forseeable future, its licence revoked.

  • Easter's Approach

    Not too many years ago, Easter fell early in the month of April. I spent it camping in a blizzard somewhere near Birmingham, packing in as many people as our tent would hold so that we wouldn’t freeze overnight. My choice to spend the daylight hours running around a frozen muddy field in a hakama was also, with hindsight, not the best of all possible choices.

  • Why I'm Voting "Yes" to AV

    A while ago, I blogged my indifference to the Alternative Vote system, and politics in general at that point, in a post entitled “Meh” to AV.  My main objection was that AV would increase the likelihood of the country being governed by bland centrist coalitions.  However, now hopefully somewhat more educated about the subject, I am now given to understand that AV would in fact reduce the likelihood of coalition governments – and given how well our current coalition is working out for all concerned, I suspect that a greater chance of outright majority governments may be a good thing for Britain.

  • Summer Calling

    It is past midnight here, and a warm onshore breeze is just beginning to slacken. I stand barefoot between the blinking lights of the town and the endless beaches that sweep up the sea, whole again.

  • An Ending in Darkness

    I lie unmoving on the floor of Joseph’s bedroom, stretching my back into shape as I listen to the splattering of raindrops against his window. A cold north wind blows them on, a rare wind in these parts. So rare is this wind, and so sheltered is our flat from all other directions, that the sound of rain against glass seems alien for a moment.

  • On Game Design: DJ Rivals

    There’s a formula common to many of today’s popular “casual” games. If you’ve played a bunch of Facebook games recently, you’ll probably recognise it. It goes a bit like this:

  • Promises Fallen by the Wayside

    Nearly six months ago, I sketched out some ideas for a site then called “healthi.ly”, since renamed to Daily Promise. In time I coded it up, made it public, and made the same commitment I have to other sites in the past – 20 active users gets it its own domain and investment of time and effort. Less than that, and it goes how it goes.

  • In Search of Document Control's Holy Grail

    Just over a year ago, our site was sold by its owners to another parent company. In the run-up to the sale, we had been slowly making ourselves a new intranet based around Microsoft SharePoint. After the event, SharePoint kicked off in a big way, with more and more projects and teams starting to use it for their file storage.

  • The UI of Least Resistance

    I was working up to a blog post on Ubuntu’s new “Unity” interface a couple of days ago, but repeatedly stalled when it came to making a point. The only point I could come up with was essentially just “I don’t like this”, which isn’t the greatest of subjects for a blog post – to say nothing of the hundreds who have trodden that territory before me.

  • Cultural Travesty Pizza

    Over the past couple of hours, I’ve been encouraging the people of Twitter and Facebook to help me create the world’s greatest culinary cultural travesty. Starting with a pizza base, as probably the easiest thing to hold all the other stuff, I intend to pick one of the suggested foodstuffs for each country or region, and add some to the pizza.

  • On Game Design: Time to Quit

    Not long after my post about the game DJ Rivals, I finished the main part of the game and hit a metaphorical wall. There was no more story; I’d bought every item in the store and mastered the game’s hardest moves. The game tries to offer replay value via progressively harder missions based on those earlier in the game, and via battles against human players of comparable level. The latter offers nothing to play for apart from in-game money, which I already had in abundance, while the former offers only the elusive carrot of 100% completion, which dangled too far distant for me to want it much.

  • A Flotsam Person

    Whilst walking the night-time streets of Guildford, Eric remarked to me that it was a place that felt permanent; a place where one could put down roots. My home, and now hers, stands in complete contrast. Bournemouth is a new town, founded two hundred years ago as a seaside resort – which it still is.

  • And So Into Summer

    Every year, when the days start to heat up, it feels like a liberation that some strange part of me worries might never come. But it’s here now, as inevitable as any season. May turns into June with barely a second thought. The wind swings around to the south, blowing hot from foreign lands. It rises, too, tickling the tops of trees but bringing no relief to those on the ground under the scorching sun.

  • A Time to Panic

    Life passes slowly, when epic things lie ahead.

  • A Knot is Tied

    Just over seven years ago, after one potential student house deal fell through, I asked around the Games Society to see if anyone was in a similar situation. I met one girl who was strange and hyperactive and who was looking for other people to share a house with. She introduced me to a house and another potential housemate, and that housemate proceeded to introduce me to a nightclub, an entire musical genre, and another girl whom I immediately developed a crush on. Little did I know then that the house would come to define my time at university, and the people whom I turned to in desperation to find a house would become some of my best friends.

  • Twitter, Facebook and the Expectation of Privacy

    I’ve been asked a couple of times why it is that my status posts on Facebook are locked down, visible only to friends or sometimes friends-of-friends:

  • A Place for Google Plus?

    “Google+”, Google’s new stab at social networking, is doing the rounds of tech news sites today. So what’s it like – if you scored an invite, should you be using it, and if you haven’t yet, are you missing out?

  • Geo-IP Security: Option Three

    Facebook, and many other online services, have an almost-clever security measure that tries to protect users against account theft. It uses your IP address to do a “Geo-IP” lookup – that is, to figure out roughly where in the world you normally access the site from. If an access attempt happens from elsewhere, the user will have to supply extra information to log in – often an “identify this person from their tagged photos” quiz.

  • IE6, WordPress, and Dick Moves

    For years, anti-IE6 sentiment on the internet has been rising – and justly so. It’s ten years old, and cares so little for standards that web developers often have to code for it specifically. Quite reasonably, they – we – are a bit fed up with that. Successive versions of Internet Explorer have become much better at standards support, and it would be great if every IE user would just upgrade to IE9 tomorrow.

  • The Machine Triumphant

    “FAST One, Container. Stand by for mission start.” The helmsman steps back from the controls, flicks the button on the radio once to signal acknowledgement. On the dashboard, unseen, an LCD display flicks over from “MANUAL” to “AUTONOMOUS”. Engines rev, water bubbles and begins to surge, the air fills with smoke and the smell of diesel. And away we go.

  • Farewell, Atlantis

    After thirty years and a hundred and thirty-five missions for NASA’s space shuttle fleet, the final launch comes and goes remarkably quickly. The event itself snuck up on me; courtesy of Twitter I had fifteen minutes’ warning to find the live stream, set my laptop down on the table, and stare with fascination. It was the first shuttle launch I’ve watched live – and, of course, it will also be the last.

  • Levelling Up the Steam Rally

    Yesterday Joseph, my parents and I headed to “Steamed Up”, a steam rally out near Cole Hill in Dorset. Joseph was pretty keen on the bouncy castle and the tractors, while my mum was predictably getting into teaching Joseph how steam engines work. Me, I was mostly in it for the pub lunch. But still.

  • Previewing Android's New Market

    Google has a new version of the Android Market app on the way, and just like every other tech blog in the world, here’s a preview.

  • Could I Live Without...?

    A couple of months ago, I was particularly scathing about the crop of Facebook games that I was playing, particularly ones that had no end. The result? I no longer play any games on Facebook whatsoever. As I bemoaned at length, not one of them was adding to my life in any appreciable way.

  • Not Exactly Canon

    Joseph: “What’s if I was a real superhero?”

  • UI Through the Eyes of a Child (Part 1/n?)

    My son is at the age where every question starts with “why” and everything, no matter how obvious, is to be questioned.  I regularly get asked about various iconography and bits of user interface that seem intuitive to me, but to someone without many years of experience are clearly not.  Through his eyes, I am beginning to understand the issues faced by new users of computers, mobile phones, and so on.

  • Where Culture Comes to Die

    So, yesterday we had dinner at this place, which delights in the horrible name of “Georgie Porgie’s Buffet World”.

  • London's Burning

    From John Wyndham to Alan Moore, the British have long had a morbid fascination with the downfall of society; the government as the enemy; that dark time after the “stiff upper lip” fails us. Though that upper lip remains stiff in the form of #riotcleanup and Operation Cup of Tea, tonight, London burns.

  • Whither the State Religion?

    This so-far unloved petition was shared with me on Facebook the other day, and while I can’t bring myself to sign it – I agree with most, but not the dis-establishment of the Church of England – it has got me wondering why we still have such a thing as a “state religion” in the United Kingdom.

  • Cheating in the Age of Micropayments

    So, the other day I cheated at a videogame for what is probably the first time in years. Not for unfair advantage over other players, but merely because it was one of those games with no end, and before consigning it to the dustbin of history, I wanted to see what the best weapons were like.

  • "Quick Energy"

    Late last night, my wife thrust into my hands a bottle of something called “Quick Energy”, with instructions that I should drink it in the morning, and a minor warning that it might be absolutely disgusting. Well, as a man who is still trying to track down a way of importing Four Loko, I guess I have no grounds to decline this.

  • What's for dinner?

    What’s for dinner? Videogame lava is what’s for dinner.

  • My BlackBerry Week

    My phone, an HTC Desire HD, is a gorgeous slate of metal and glass; thin but with a huge screen, and when I bought it back in December of 2010, it was the most powerful and capable phone on the market. It is part of the future of ‘computing’, capable of 99% of what I use my laptop computer for. It’s also irresistible to my Cut the Rope-completionist son, and unfortunately, heavy gaming use drains the battery in a little under three hours. Normal use, for me, toasts it in between 8 and 12.

  • Announcing: SuccessWhale version 2.0!

    Ladies and Gentlemen of the Internet, I am pleased to announce that SuccessWhale version 2.0 has just been released and is now live on SuccessWhale.com.

  • SuccessWhale is Terrifying: VPS Edition

    Just under two years ago, my SuccessWhale Twitter client was gaining new users at a steady rate and, as I noticed with alarm, was about to blow through my then-limited bandwidth allowance.

  • Glitch: A Beautiful Something

  • Not So Fleeting Anymore

    I took my first faltering steps “online” in the mid-90s, courtesy of Trumpet Winsock under Windows 3.1, followed by AOL’s UK Games Chat, doubtless a gateway drug to the life of Usenet and IRC that followed; hoping and pleading that my parents wouldn’t pick up the phone and hear the telltale 14.4 kilobit buzzing that gave away my illicit internet usage.

  • Please Draw on my GUI!

    For my current project, my mock-ups have now progressed to the PowerPoint stage, which sits between whiteboard drawings and actual code, and thus lets me briefly pretend to be a real user experience person. Rather than consigning it to my hard drive for all eternity, I figured I’d get some input on it from the rest of my team – and, in for a penny and so on, everyone else who sets foot in the office.

  • In Praise of Partimage

    For weeks now, I’ve been attempting to wrangle Symantec Ghost, the corporate cousin of Norton Ghost, to back up and restore the contents of a partition on a RAID. I’ve fought with device drivers, manually built Windows PE images using WAIK with Symantec’s outdated instructions, fought off continual pestering from a probably well-meaning call centre operative, and significantly contributed to the drinks coaster industry.

  • Of Software and Magic

    Lightning crackles through my hind-brain, adenosine receptors lighting up in sequence as caffeine molecules finish their long journey from the hillsides of South America to the grey mass of proteins from which spawn consciousness. My eyes open wider, and with them my mind. Fingers flicker and dance across the keys of mankind’s most arcane device. Thoughts, ideas, visions flash across my mind, patterns forming for just milliseconds. Then they explode through neural pathways, twisting and contorting muscles that touch keys across the tiny portion of the real world that is still required for man and machine to work in harmony. Then on again, electrical pulses once more, completing the journey from pattern in flesh to pattern in silicon.

  • Rage Against the Council: Why Recycling in Flat Blocks Sucks

    A few minutes ago, I attempted the simple task of taking out a bag full of recycling.  Having circumnavigated the car that some thoughless Mazda-driver saw fit to park in front of the area where our recycling bins are kept, I discovered this:

  • Seeking a Final Film Review (by the Numbers)

    It’s getting on for two years since I first drunkenly mocked a film in “By the Numbers” style.  I’m now onto my eighty-third and slowly but surely running out of ideas and interesting things to mock.  I think a round hundred would be a good place to stop, so I’m taking suggestions as to what the next sixteen films should be, and particularly what I should end on.