Molly in Newcastle

Not so subtle hint in the subject line, but without further ado, Molly (yes, that Molly) is coming to Newcastle for a talk.

All the details are still being confirmed but we are talking:

15th February Room 149 Northumberland Building, Northumbria University, City Campus, Newcastle, NE1 8ST 5-7pm

After talk drinks and food to be confirmed. Probably going to be along the lines of “Webstandards and Usability” with some time for a Q&A session as well.

Big up to Tom Simcox here. He’s been threatening for a while and with Molly in the country she’s agreed to come and visit little old us. Mark (of sunderland uni and NEUA fame) also sorted out the venue, amongst other things. Good job everyone.

We need people along for this so tell you employers, whoop to your colleagues, threaten you employees and be there.

I’ll post more details as they are confirmed. If your from outside the region and want to come along let me know. It’s short notice but sometimes these things are – and you know you dont want to miss out.

To help us gauge interest a little it would be grate if you interested to leave a comment below. If you cant come along because say, it’s your birthday, then what questions would you like asking?

Small Software

Of late I’ve found myself making quite a few smaller purchases of software. I’ve always been a fan of Open Source (and before that shareware – mainly on the ZX Spectrum) and still use lots of open source apps (anyone say Firefox) but for some really specific jobs it’s nice to have something you know is maybe a little more polished.

I dont know if it’s just me getting older and having more disposable income, or a greater appreciation of what it takes to make really good software (probably a bit of both) but it’s sort of snuck up on me? Anyone else finding the same? I know Jon has been mentioning some cool new apps he’s using. What about everyone else?

Recent purchase have included the following, nearly all bought with PayPal as it happens:

  • Airfoil allows any sounds (mainly music) to be send round the house to speakers connected to my AirPort. Lovely.
  • PSPWare Like iSync but for my PSP. Also converts movies.
  • radioShark Ok, software and hardware but useful at times.
  • Mint I’ve mentioned before. Lovely stats.

I’m also evaluating (and at the moment being impressed by) a few other apps. Upcoming purchases probably.

  • QuickNews RSS reader (and podcasting app) for Palm OS.
  • PocketTunes Good quality audio player for Palm OS, much better than the bundled Real Audio.
  • TextMate The missing editor for OS X? Maybe. It’s toying with me at the moment to sit aside SubEthaEdit

On a blog related point, I’m aware I’ve been blogging more technology related stuff of late. I’ll be back with alot more web design and development banter soon, and some things happening up this neck of the woods (including a revamped newcastlenewmedia site hopefully) – it’s a matter of having the ideas but not having the time! Hope it’s still all interesting to everyone.

The Meaning of Scale

I’m quite a numbers person and have something of a penchant for statistics As if you couldn’t guess from the site name. So it is with Google (who also have a mathematical inspired site name). But unlike me they have more people (it’s just me) and lets face it, more computing power (only so many computers I can get in my house without getting told off).

So they bring us something of a large, automated, study (including some decent analysis) of what markup is actually being used, interestingly also including common class names. I’d love to do something like that – over 1,000,000,000 sites analysed!

On a standards front seems to be good news and bad news, some of the common classes are things like:

  • footer
  • menu
  • title, header, top
  • small, smalltext
  • text, content, main, body
  • nav
  • copyright
  • search
  • date

Most of those I can see use for. They Mean something for a start. Although some of the other top entries included things such as:

  • white
  • link
  • button
  • style1 (my personal fave)

Which maybe aren’t as well chosen.

On the other hand there are still lots of weirdness, proprietary tags and bizarre attributes. iWeb might be using crazy nested divs but it’s still valid.

Being Google it’s all written fairly amusingly, including a few digs at competitors with applications which generate nightmare markup. Overall, a good read. There are probably a good number of other useful nuggets of information burried in the document as well. Anyone coming across anything of particular relevance leave a comment.

Meme Warning! Enter at Own Risk

Help! I’m not sure what to do? I appear to have been set upon by nearly published author simon in an attempt to spread a deadly meme. Oh well.

Four jobs I’ve had in my life
  1. Paper Boy
  2. Kitchen Porter
  3. Packager of Shower Fittings
  4. Front End Architect

Four movies I can watch over and over
  1. Black Hawk Down
  2. Serenity
  3. 28 Days Later
  4. Impostor

Four places I have lived
  1. Bradford
  2. Durham
  3. Belmont (not to be confused with Belmarch)
  4. Newcastle

Four TV shows I love to watch
  1. Alias
  2. The Wire
  3. The Shield
  4. The West Wing

Four places I have been on vacation
  1. Cornwall
  2. Rome
  3. France
  4. Denmark (Lego Land)

Four of my favourite dishes
  1. Sausage Casserole with Guinness Gravy
  2. Seabass
  3. Falafel, Spicy Chutney and Chilli Rice
  4. Wild Mushroom and Real Ale Pie

Four websites I visit daily
  1. Google
  2. Newsgator
  3. Del.icio.us
  4. Newcastlenewmedia.org

Four bloggers I am tagging
  1. Steve Woods
  2. Phil Lindsay
  3. Pixeldiva
  4. Lee

Here endeth the lists. I’d be intrigued to see a rather cumbersome tree diagram of this meme thang in action. You know, track it back to it’s source, looking at relationships and all that jazz. But it’s late and I’m tired.

A Foundation to Build Javascript On

Like probably quite a few others I’m doing more Javascript of late, both professionally and at play. It’s not just the whole buzz around it, all the way back to Jeremy using Javascript for Good not Evil but I moved away from doing backend development when I moved jobs, Javascript is most definately in my client side job remit.

As an avid reader I’ve got hold of a few good quality Javascript books that have come along and was on the lookout for more when I came upon Foundations of AJAX from Apress’s black and yellow experts voice series. I haven’t read enough to give a full conclusion but I’ve been impressed with other books in the series and it looks promising so far. A few chapters did stand out (I jumped in and read them first) that had little to do with AJAX, concentrating instead on setting up a proper Javascript development environment.

I’m not a fan of bloated IDEs so the lack of one for Javascript doesn’t bother me as much as it does some. However debugging by browser is a pain for simple scripts, never mind larger applications. Firefox’s Javascript Console is mighty handy here, as is the DOM inspector and the view rendered source extension. There is also the Windows Script Debugger but I personally haven’t had much luck with that as yet.

Projects should have documentation and code should have comments. But it’s time consuming (honestly). Automatic generation of docs from source comments both makes you comment more efficiently and comprehensively and saves time. Everyone’s happy, at least as long as they are using the JSDoc perl application to do just that. Anyone familiar with Java will have come across JDoc and the name isn’t the only similarity. It’s now installed and ready to be used next time I write any Javascript.

Another area of interest recently has been application design, analysis and methodology, so I’d come across the idea of test driven development before and experimented briefly – but not with Javascript. The idea is that you write tests that can be run automatically on your finished code before you write the code, it makes you design more which cant be a bad think. Anyway, Javascript has JSUnit, a nice unit testing framework. Again, installed and ready to give it a whirl.

Hopefully this brief list will prove useful to anyone else making more use of Javascript recently and looking to be more productive. Anyone else with any other useful tools do post a comment, or is their a mythical application that you just wish existed to help you with your Javascript woes?

books

I’m something of an avid reader and, making use of the nice Amazon API I’ll try to keep my reading list up to date on here. I’m just including books that are maybe a little relevant to the web – otherwise this will get out of hand. I’d like to include some brief reviews if the time ever comes along, though dont hold your breath.

Music and Web Standards sitting in a tree

I’ve quite a music fan, I used to be more so but have been catching up recently with various bits and pieces. I tend to stick with more web centric posts on here but, while loading lots of music into iTunes I thought what the hell. I’ll touch on a few points of web goodness just in case.

I’ve noted quite a strong link between music and web standards style blogs for a while. Lots of end of year posts touched on music and simon even has his music monthlies My guess here is that the amount of time spent on the computer (both in and out of work) and a tendency to be male tends to lead to some musical interest or other. Having said that alot of the same bands seem to crop up as well. It seems to be lots of indie, newish brit popesque, garagish bands. Guitars. Men. That sort of thing.

A number of other instances spring to mind. A discussion a long while back on designersinhouse about listening to music at work, Jeremy Keith’s in a real band and visiting a certain Rock night after an accessify meetup with Patrick a few months back.

Where is all the music related web software produced by all of these people though? last.fm is nice and I keep meaning to get into it a little bit more than I have. iTunes and Amazon cater to most mainstream buying tastes but from very much a mainstream angle. I’d love to see, or get involved in, something that combines some of the cool aspects of flickr and del.icio.us et al with music. Time to come up with some ideas, or look around for interesting new sites me thinks.

Oh and while I’m at it the new music I’m listening to at the moment includes:

Sorry, the about the last bit. It’s quite cathartic listing my musical leanings on here. Not sure why but I’m in good company as already noted. What music, or music web tools, do you swear by? Please note that I reserve the right to edit posts which seem to advocate music I dont like. You probably know who you are.

More to come/statement of intent

More of a statement of intend, for posterity’s sake hopefully. Something I can look back on and think “Oh, yeah, I meant to do that” later in the year. Also so I dont forget, or just decide I couldn’t be bothered. Why this all of a sudden? Well, it’s the start of the new year anyway, but in particular the first meetup of people from the Newcastle New Media list got me thinking. And in particular more than thinking, wanting to act on existing thoughts.

So, without further ado, here is a brief list of thinks I’m going to do this year – fingers crossed, in no partricular order and missing several things that no one reading this will care about:

I may have forgetten a couple of things, I’ll add them as I see fit. Anyone else got a list that they would like to share? Either on here or post a link to your own site.

Widgets

Of late I’ve got round to installing a few widgets on my computers – Dashboard on my Mac and Yahoo Widgets on Windows (no linux widgets as yet). I’m actually still running OS X 10.3.9 and using the very nice Amnesty to allow run to Mac Widgets.

I’ve been meaning to play with widgets for a while, mainly because I’ve been using HTML, CSS and Javascript for years and widgets simply reuse these technologies – making it easy to just jump in an make something handy. I’m also a fan of web services in general and widgets provide another handy interface to many online services.

I’ve mainly been using the Junior Mint widget (and Minty) for keeping an eye on my site stats, I think I mentioned before I’m hooked). I’ve also been using WiFi monitoring widgets, battery monitoring widgets and looking at the backpack widget which looks nice.

As for having a go at developing them – I just made available my first go, a widget to keep track of the @media2006 feed agregator I have built. It’s relatively simply – it polls the site for a couple of variables and displays them across a couple of panes. The numbers in question are the total number of posts, the number of new posts this week and today – as well as a countdown to the event. I had to do a little work to expose these properties in an XML format from the site but nothing major.

I learned by looking at a couple of tutorials as well as existing widgets. Disecting code prooved the most useful – the majority of tutorials seemed to provide good Hello World examples but you could probably guess most of that. If anyone has any good intermediary or advanced widget tutorials then let me know.

The main problem with the development process was definately the iterative testing. With web pages I tend to work in large steps (with very little testing) early on and then move to more small changes and quick testing later on when it’s down to the details rather than the brush strokes. I’d definately echo the sentiment of others by testing in safari (it uses the same rendering engine) first, and also add that getting all the markup and CSS in place before moving to Javascript is probably the best bet. You really need to test the Javascipt with a real running widget as it has it’s own functions available via the widget object. I’ve heard Apple may be working on a suitable IDE for widgets (my guess would be a tie in with Xcode) and I’ve come across Wcode which appears to offer some useful tools.

I’ve not yet looked into the situation with Yahoo Widgets – I intend to port my @media widget to Yahoo as an experiment and we’ll see how that goes (and yes I know that’s the wrong way round – Dashboard was, to some, a copy of Konfabulator, now Yahoo widgets. It’s early days I think for widgets – the move to more of a distributed systems feel, with open APIs and web services, amongst modern web applications would seem to be a perfect match for small desktop applications that tie into them. Watch this space.

@media redux

Yes it’s back. @media returns as promised by Patrick last year and, well, it’s definately bigger. Two streams, more speakers and panels than you can shake a pink elephant at. I know for a fact that this was being planned even before Molly had left the bar last year and boy does it show.

The blogs are alight with the sound of people coming up with something, anything to tell their bosses in the morning. I’m sure I’m not the only one still awake either posting comments (Yes Zach, Patrick I do mean you) and making blog posts.

I’ll post more about what I want to see, how I’m going to decide which sessions to go to (I’ll need some sort of system – simply trying to decide which one’s will be best will only end in heartbreak) over the next 6 months or so. Yes it really is that far away. With the Carson Summit coming up so soon as well that should more than keep me going – especially with them having different emphasise (web standards/accessibility and web application development/design respectively) to keep thinks from getting boring.

And with all that in mind the reason it’s late when I post this makes sense. Yes it’s another feed agregator thing.

morethanseven.net/atmedia2006

The place is already starting to hot up and I’d guess that will only get worse (or better?) over the next few days. I’m glad to get in early this time. Last year proved useful (at least to me) in keeping up with the aftershow goings on with 150 posts from 52 feeds – but I only got it together a week or so after the event, thanks mainly to Faruk for compiling the initial list of posts.

Any bugs or suggestions let me know. Also if anyone has a good name (feed agregator is pretty mechanical) then please do tell. I’ve added a few of the requested features from previous editions and it’s now possible to quickly suggest new feeds and to search through all the posts.

Anyway – Hope to see people in June. My predictions of a year of real world activity to mirror our enlightened online existence are coming to fruitition already.