Install Fun

Update A few additions I thought I’d add here rather than keep for another post. Sarat just messaged me with a link to CrossOver Mac. I now have IE 6 running natively on my mac. Which is nice. I also installed Twisted but that’s probably for later too.

I finally got round to getting myself a new MacBook (only a week or so after Phil) and a nice piece of kit it is too. I decided not to simply plug it into my previous machine via firewire and port everything across. I sort of figured something would break moving from a G4 to the new Intel machines but I think the real reason was that I quite like setting up a fresh machine. It might just be me but I quite like installing and tweaking things.

I thought, for posterity, I’d post a list of the things I installed and some of the tweaks I got up to.

First things first. I installed most of these apps into a Personal folder in the Applications folder, just to keep them separate from the preinstalled Apple applications.

As nice as the OS X interface is a couple of small additions can’t hurt. With all the talk about Spaces of late I’m not sure if people had come across Desktop Manager before. It’s basically spaces, or virtual desktops, now.

I also include a few Apple apps in my dock that I use on a regular basis:

I’m a UNIX geek at heart, from even before OS X moved in that direction, and both Fink and Darwin Ports make grabbing most packages easy enough.

Web development is what I do, and I couldn’t be doing that without a handfull of frameworks could I?

Their are lots of ways of setting up the Apache MySQL PHP stack on OS X, the OS already includes versions of Apache and PHP in fact. I instead went for using the MAMP installer to avoid the likely problems of upgrading from source the preinstalled versions. I then got to work tweaking and twisting the default MAMP install into shape, adding th ability to quickly setup virtual hosts, a central code library repository, sorting paths out and setting up Python support. I hope to post about this later on in more detail.

All in all, everything is up and running nicely.

Learning Modern Web Design

How do you convince people you know what you’re talking about? I mean, if someone wants to double check that you have a clue about web design where can they go? I’m not talking about the little things – CSS hacks, binary things which are right or wrong based on something obvious – I’m mean the nearly imperceptible little bits that all come together to make the sum bigger than its parts. I’ll use Garrett Dimon’s concept of Front End Architecture as a good example of this.

If you’re an expert too, no problem. You visit your personal set of blogs, ask a few people over on the lists you inhabit, digg out articles you read ages ago and added to del.icio.us. You learn something new and get on with your work.

But what if you’re involved in management? Or are bringing your expertise from another field to web design (say marketing, or graphic design, all things you need)? Of course you need to trust the experts but it would still be useful to have at least a big picture idea about what is going on. It’s the same for specialists – someone working day in, day out with ASP.NET doesn’t need to know the in’s and outs of CSS in IE7, but having the big picture – from architecture to usability – is going to be useful.

I started gathering some of this information together as a resource for work. One thing I noticed was that it was pretty much impossible to find the sort of theory based resources I was looking for without knowing where they were already. Specific blog posts (just blog URLs are too big a moving target to be useful for something so focused), online magazines, podcasts and books; their is so much information around, and much of it out of date or not useful enough to begin with. An expert can filter this, often without even thinking about it, but what about a non expert?

I’m going to gather this information together somewhere in the hopefully not too distant future but in the meantime does anyone know of any similar resources already out there? Where would you send your marketing savvy boss to get a feel for Ajax? or your best developer to get the skinny on usability?

Localisation and Usability

Some interesting observations after a post and comments over at The Watchmaker Project

It turns out, after me jumping to conclusions, that the interface for Newsgator Online (my favourite newsreader for the last year or so since I went web native) varies depending on locale. From a brief look at the US, French and UK versions the US version has a newer (and from a quick look nicer) interface than the others.

First the US only version:

And then the UK (the French version is the same, except with the relevant language changes):

The usability issue I have with this is the user chooses the locale when they login, wherever you login from (newsgator.com, newsgator.co.uk or newsgator.fr). OK so it’s an edge case issue, but I now know I have a choice of interfaces. Do I stick with being honest and saying I’m a brit and get an seemingly inferior interface? or do I lie and pretend to be a yank? If I was a French speaker I wouldn’t have that choice either? I dont actually know yet. I’m definately going to lie a few times just to see the new features and the interface though.

Geekout

On occasion I even surprise myself. Sometimes you just need to geek. Rob at work was discussing his ideal device, basically something that would read text based RSS feeds to him while in the bath in the morning. Lazy I know.

I thought to myself That cant be too difficult and I’ve never played with any text to speach stuff before and off I went. A few hours later and I just got my Windows machine to read out the top story from this site.

Python is so cool to just hack in. Did I mention that before? I’ve yet to do anything real in it, but playing around with code is nice. Anyway, on with a solution;

Lots of things to install first. As mentioned I used Windows, in this case so I could access the Win32 Speech API. I looked at using Festival on Unix but left that for now. Tools of choice were Python 2.4 with the Win32 extensions. A couple of Python modules do most of the work. First up pyTTS which deals with the text to speach and SAPI integration. Next comes the Feedparser module. I’d heard this mentioned by Simon over on the Yahoo Python developer network and it really is nice.

The rest was easy. import pyTTS import feedparser d = feedparser.parse("http://morethanseven.net/rss") tts = pyTTS.Create() tts.Speak(d['items'][0].description)

Ok, so this isn’t an application. Just a proof of concept but you get the idea and I dont really want or need this app anyway. Why then? because I thought I could. Oh, and Python’s interactive prompt is so cool. I want one for everything.

Some start of the week fun with Yahoo!

Well, Christian’s book, Begining Javascript with DOM Scripting and Ajax is out and, as of writing this Amazon UK only have four copies left so hopefully that’s a good sign.

A quick competition on the site peaked my amusometer and I couldn’t resist.

Keep an eye on flickr for more hopefully.

Everyone who is everyone already resides at YAHOO!, with more recent movers that you can shake a stick at. I’d just like to make a couple of observations:

Both Drew and Stuart posted posts titled Joining Yahoo!. The brain washing obviously starts in the interviews so you have been warned!

The upcoming BarCampLondon event is being held at the Yahoo offices in London. I’m thinking about going along, but I’m scared Yahoo might not let all those talented developers leave on the sunday?

YUI lovin

I’m working on some redesign work for one of my under maintained sites at the moment, with something of a redesign in the works. It seemed a good opportunity to play more with YUI, the Yahoo User Interface Library, which I’d had a peak at before and heard nice things about (sorry, I like the long namespaces).

I’ve nothing finished yet past a proof of concept, but I thought a couple of lines of javascript wouldn’t go a miss. Nothing fancy mind, just some nice bits I like so far.

The case in point was wanting to add event handlers to an unknown number of links within an unordered list.

First off a quick, clever, one liner. onAvailable checks for the availability of the object (if you remove the quotes) or an object with a specified id in this case. It executes the callback function, init in this case, when the condition is true.

YAHOO.util.Event.onAvailable("iList", init);

Moments later we have events added to all the links.

function init() { var links = document.getElementById("iList").getElementsByTagName("A"); YAHOO.util.Event.addListener(links, "click", clickCallback); }

Again you just throw in whatever you happen to be working with (in this case an array returned by getElementsByTagName) and everything just gets dealt with. I originally had a for loop, iterating over the links and adding events, then I worked out YUI just did it all for me if I let it. I like that. I could have done it myself. YUI would have let me and not complained. But if I want to delve a bit I can find cool, quick, clean ways of doing the same thing. I refactored my code, with the help of YUI in ten minutes. I like that, but I think I said that.

More dConstruct craziness

Last year I missed out on dconstruct, this year I sat and watched the timer tick down. Which didn’t help hugely as a fair few other people were doing the same thing and the site went into what appeared to be a javascript induced page request meltdown. Oh well. Everything worked out in the end, I paid my money for myself and a colleague to attend and so did 348 or so other people and it’s now sold out. Why do I get a feeling I could name half the people attending? and be about right?

Their will again I’m sure be more web conference as trendy holiday for web geeks and nothing else conversations, but again I dont care. I haven’t had the chance to do any holidays at all for ages unless you count Carson and @media, and I learn lots again as well.

Well, I’ve fired up the dConstruct feed thing again, although I need to update the codebase with the latest version as it lacks the bits I added (like new post indicators and the stats) more recently. Give me a week or so.

Much more interestingly, and entertainingly, I have to recommend the dConstruct Podcast. I listen to podcasts on occasion, always grab talks from conferences and the like and subscribed because it was their. I didn’t expect it to be a rock and roll fourteen minutes of comedy genius. Everyone who’s been to one of Jeremy’s talks or sessions will know he’s an enthusiastic and engaging presenter, but little did we know about the comic inside. Ok, so you need to know everyone, so maybe it’s a bit incestuous, but it’s still funny. Through in some more info about the upcoming event and everyone will be laughing. More of the same please.

On the web design podcast front; anyone know of any good magazine style programmes on web design and development? or even better a weekly comic look at the industry?

@media in pictures

I always take ages to get photos off my camera. It’s like the sort of delay you would get if you sent them off to be developed. Anyhow, I’ve finally sorted out my @media photos and uploaded a few to flickr. Have a look if you feel so inclined. I’ve included a few below, mainly because these ones made me chuckle:

A look of sheer horror if ever their was one from Patrick.

Patrick H Lauke on the big screen

Is “Chris Wilson”: not the spitting image of He Man?

Chris Wilson

If this isn’t caption competition material I dont know what is. Norm was most definately the man that night.

Norm. nuff said.

Ah. The famous straw incident. Featuring Nic and an awful lot of straws.

A drink very very full of straws

And I’m still trying to decide what was funnier; the fact Patrick set up a bird bath in the middle of the pub, or the fact it took him and Meri quite a while with the instructions to put it together.

A bird bath with instructions

Some people have been saying that the socialising is getting in the way of the learning and sundry at these conferences. I’ve got to disagree. You just cant ignore the socialising, not when it’s this much fun. But that doesn’t mean the message doesn’t get drilled home too.

Who is pushing the envelope anyhow?

Update UCAS to the rescue. Here are lists of graphic design courses and their ilk. Go get em.

Jeremy posted a thought provoking read that tapped into somethings I’ve been thinking about of late, and others that have been somewhere in my head for a while. In a nut shell:

Most designers have simply swapped the old technology (tables and font tags) for the new technology, without fully exploring what’s so completely new.

I’ve got to say I tend to agree with pretty much everything Jeremy said. I could pick up on liquid layouts being harder (I dont think that’s completely true once you’ve done a good number, it’s like anything new, it just takes getting your head around) but that’s just nit picking.

One thing I will comment on is some of what I see as the reasoning and, if I can think of anything, some things we can do to counter them.

One issue is that most of the designs are not done by designers in my opinion. I’m not really sure I count as a designer here, I flit between too many disciplines to be completely comfortable with the title (or most titles to be honest). The perceived technicalities of CSS (it’s plain text) can put those without that bend (ie. Photoshop users) off, and at the same time attract people who thing vim is cool. Combine this with a truly fantastic online community full of helpful tutorials and you have a recipe for technically good, but creatively stunted, websites. Throw into the mix easily replicated techniques (rounded corners and gradients anyone?) and gallery sites with a low barrier to entry and you get to where we are now.

And I dont really think all of this is bad? Anyone can put together web pages, even half decent web sites. For me that just makes it more fun/challenging to do it professionally and demonstrate real value. Everyone can paint, but how many people can say they can paint well? And I dont mean your skirting boards. Some are already sounding the death knell for gallery sites. The real gallery is and should be the web itself. If design is about communicating, unless your aim is to communicate to other web standards designers, the galleries should be the last thing on your mind.

But where are the new breed of designers? The people doing the sorts of things that Jeremy wishes were happening right now (or more likely happened last year)? Malarkey’s book will be stunning if the bits and pieces he mentioned at @media are anything to go by, but who is going to force it into the hands of the graphic design student, or the art college graduate. And beat them over the head with it until they are ready to come work with me? Or you? Or me and you if you work with me already.

I’m now vaguely miffed. I thought right, I’m going to go and get myself a list of all the uk design degrees and put it up here. People could then leave comments, ring them up and try and get in to speak to these people about web design and report back. If the mountain won’t come to mohamed and all that. Except guessing and googling didn’t turn up anything useful. The design council had lots about education (in theory) but then the search facility broke (and the fact it appears to be a table based love child of the old adobe site and BD4D). UCAS are doing maintenance and are offline until midnight. I’ll post a list when I can get by hands on one. Or if you have better luck let me know. Funky logos and pithy slogans can come later, as can a big pile of presentations and materials if anyone, inlcuding me, ever does anything about it.

So. Who’s with me? I dont care if your scared of public speaking (or just scared of speaking in general, or even scared of the public). You’ll know more than the students in any case and that makes you dangerous. And they might have the ideas, and enthusiasm, we need to pass beyond the limits of our current design problems.

I know I went off in something of a straight line here. I made a bee line for design education. I could have detoured to visual design tools or photoshop designers with a loving for print and a propensity to want a 350 page website look like their comps. Both of them. Feel free to go off on a tangent yourselves, and let me know what you think.

Making things better

I love this idea. It has a nice warm fuzzy feeling about it. Molly was musing about a code of ethics for professional web developers. Talk went on at @media about certification and education and the like, and the general concensus was pretty negative, for good reason in my opinion.

However, a code of ethics, more a stamement of intent from professional to professional, strikes me as a really good idea. It’s easy to forget that it can be difficult when learning (and aren’t we always learning in this job?) to really get down to best practice. It can be difficult to just do it at times, never mind do it properly what ever that means.

After reading on the comments I was feeling pretty good, and a few from the bottom I was thinking, I’ll set up a wiki, as suggested. Well, Meri got their first so good job Meri, it keeps it in Newcastle any how. Head over there now, it’s fairly light on content at the moment but I guess that is the point of this point.

What do other people think of this anyhow? Now I need to find some time. Or rather more time. I love being all enthusiastic, if only I found the time! I’m going to have to cut down on sleep, and I so like sleep.