Kurt Vonnegut’s advice on writing

Posted by on Dec 10, 2012 in On the interwebs | No Comments

I love pretty much all the writing of Kurt Vonnegut; I think he was a tremendous writer who always had something interesting to say.  I stumbled across this blog post today which contains much wisdom from the man himself, as concerns writing.  Including these gems:

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

and

“Start as close to the end as possible.”

I particularly like this last one.  Too often in stories – or in web projects, come to think of it – there is a ton of stuff you don’t need to get done, that you don’t need to put yourself through.  A story has an end point … a bunch of necessary stuff needs to happen to get to that point, but by being strict in determining what is necessary, and what isn’t, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.

I’ve a sudden desire to re-read Breakfast of Champions this weekend.

The Cheese Hub – site launch

Cheese and websites … two of my favourite things, and brought together so wonderfully with this deceptively simple little ecommerce project: The Cheese Hub.  

Cheese Hub

They’re business based in Leitrim that have some lovely looking hampers and a really interesting business in cheese maturation for local producers.  

Shelves and shelves of maturing cheese line their walls – a great way to support local businesses who might be wanting to diversify their farm-based income.  Those producers can now outsource the labour intensive and space demanding ripening, maturing, cutting and packaging functions of the operation.  Good stuff. (I’m hoping I’m saying all the right things here and that maybe a little cheese might come my way this Christmas …)

Check out the site – both on your computer, and your hand held device of choice.

Internet Explorer 10 nearly released. The web breathes slightly easier.

Posted by on Nov 7, 2012 in HTML5, Mobile, On the interwebs | No Comments

The word on the browser street is that IE10 is going to be a doozy. In terms of it’s support for HTML5 and CSS3 (the stuff that makes modern websites), it promises to finally bring the IE family up to a level with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.  Allegedly. IE9 was a good step in the right direction for Microsoft.  IE10 should be a huge leap.

IE10 released

But it’s not here yet.  October 26th saw the release of Windows 8, the new Microsoft Operating System that – confusingly – comes in two versions: one for tablets (specifically, Microsoft’s own new tablet – The Surface) and one for the desktop.  IE10 serves them both, but the release of the browser itself has been delayed.

(If you’re into this sort of thing, here’s a 14 page review of Windows 8).

What does IE10 mean for consumers?

Well, it should mean faster browsing, more secure browsing – and a more robust mobile experience.  Despite some quirks with something Microsoft call ‘Snap Mode’, IE10 should provide a more reliable interpretation of media queries (one of the building blocks for responsive web design).

What it might also mean is that people stop using IE8.  IE9 is already 19 months old.  IE8 was released in March 2009.  Three and a half years ago.  Come on people, time to drop it.  IE8 is the last IE browser that really sucked, and with the launch of IE10 I expect a bunch of big web services to announce they’re no longer supporting IE8.  (Google has already done so, and the jQuery team will likely follow).

Still, all that said, IE10 will not be available to the majority of Windows users for some time yet.  Windows 7 holds approximately 53% of the OS market.  XP a little over 25%.  Dropping IE8 altogether is probably premature – unless you’re google and can just do whatever you please – but it’s on the way.  And then we can all breathe a little easier.

Useful Links, if you’re into the techy / web design stuff:

5 apps that I cannot live without

Posted by on Oct 29, 2012 in On the interwebs | No Comments

Okay, that should probably be ’5 apps that I cannot work without’, but if there’s one thing we know about the web, it’s that we love a bit of hyperbole in a blog post title

There are some apps that become so engrained in your every day that oftentimes you don’t even realise you’re using them.  The perfect app.  An app that either complements or improves your workflow to such an extent that you can no longer imagine what it’s like to be without it.  There aren’t many, to be fair, but here are five that have done it for me.

1. Dropbox

Get Dropbox - simplify your life

I still remember when I first installed Dropbox – it was back in 2008 and the sense of relief as I realised what it would mean to me was palpable.  Simply put, I never had to email another file home again.  I typically have 3 common places where I work: my office, at home, with clients / on the road.  And, for a large part, I had 3 separate machines for each.  If I wanted to work from home one day, I’d email files from the office (or put them on a memory stick).  Then, I’d have a version of the file on my work computer, a version on the computer at home – which would be ahead of work, and a version on the memory stick.  With dropbox, all my files were in one place simultaneously, and would sync whenever I made changes.

I appreciate that with iCloud, and Google Drive, and whatever else, this is now quite commonplace, but I’m sticking with Dropbox – it was the original, it’s the best, and it’s changed the way I work for good.

2. Alfred App

Alfred App

Alfred is an award-winning productivity application for Mac OS X, which aims to save you time in searching your local computer and the web

Exactly that.  Any day you can spend less time looking for something, and more time using that something, is a good day.  Any time I need a file, it starts with CMD-space.  Then I just start typing.  95 times out of a 100, I find the thing I’m looking for and I’m away.  Yes, there are some annoyances: there are some items it can never find, I wish it would let me search a directory structure (i.e. typing clients/file_name would start the search in the ‘clients’ folder), but they only make me appreciate how often it gets it right.

I upgraded to the paid for ‘Powerpack’ version, but I didn’t need to – everything I use in Alfred is available in the free version.

(Alfred App is Mac only, but here are some alternatives for Windows users: Copernic Desktop Search, or Everything by Voidtools.  Google used to have Google Desktop, but it looks like they discontinued it a while back.

3. 1 Password

Have you ever forgotten a password?

Yes, yes you have.  Not any more … I use 1Password all the time, and for everything.  It remembers all my passwords, it generates secure passwords for me when I need to create new ones, and it syncs (via Dropbox, natch) across all my devices.  It’s even available for PC now.  Beautifully simple to use, and – like the others on this list – integrates so smoothly with my workflow that I cannot imagine being without it.  

The major reason for the fact that ‘password’ was the number one choice of password for web apps in 2012 (I know, I know) is that secure passwords are secure for a reason – namely they’re very difficult to remember.  Well, let 1Password take the strain … not only will it remember your passwords, it’ll generate secure ones for you as well.

There’s not much to say – it does essential tasks really well.

4. Self Control

Self Control App

I’ve only been using this for a couple of weeks, but I reckon I’ve saved myself at least half a day of time wasting, procrastination and lack of focus.  Sticking well to the mantra of ‘do one thing, do it well’, this great little app blocks your access to the sites that distract you during the day.  Quickly create a blacklist of sites you want to block from yourself (mine are Facebook.com, the BBC, and The Guardian), click ‘go’ and you won’t be able to access those sites until the specified time is up.  Not even rebooting your machine will bring those time suckers back.  Perfect for those of us with less self control than we’d like.

I check all my Facebook stuff, cricket scores, football news, etc. first thing in the morning, and then click go.  I’m smart enough (usually) to stop it around about lunch time so I can check it then – just in case, y’know, I’ve missed anything vital – and then it’s back on in the afternoon.

(Self Control is Mac only, but here are some lternatives for Window’s users: Self Restraint seems to be similar, but I’ve no experience of it myself.)

4. Total Finder

Total Finder

Total Finder is such a simple utility that I nearly forgot I used it … trying to round out this list I wanted to include a few apps that are essential to my job (Coda, Fireworks, Omni Outliner, and so on) – but, essential though they are, they are tools for actually ‘doing’ the work, not for enhancing it: they don’t become engrained in my workflow because they are my workflow.  Total Finder though is different … the default Finder that comes with the Mac is okay, but it’s far from great.  You know what it needs?  It needs tabs.  You know what else?  It needs to allow two connected tabs – side by side – so you can drag stuff between locations easily.  Plus – you can anchor it to the bottom of your screen, which is also nice – and open it up with a hotkey. 

That’s it.  Simple, but super useful.  Why Apple have not implemented tabs in Finder by default is a mystery to me – it seems like such a no brainer (Oh, and while they’re at it – they could have tabs in the iTunes store too, that’d be great).  

In the mean time, Total Finder will do the job for you.  (See also Pathfinder – which I’ve used before, and is excellent, but seems like overkill for what I wanted)


So, that’s my list … there are a ton of other applications I use every day, but these tiny little utilities enhance my work flow without me even noticing.  Without them, I’d be stuck.  What apps would be on your list?

God’s away on business

Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

Every now and again I’m completely blown away by the people I’ve met online.  Supremely talented, incredibly generous, and generally marvellous.  Never more so than this week when the good people of The Kenspeckle Letterpress, put this blog post online.

Tom Waits, God's Away On Business

My love of all things Tom Waits is well documented and just about tolerated in our house (there are videos – which I refrain from posting here for fear of long term psychological damage – of my children singing a passionate version of ‘Get Behind The Mule’).  I digress.

The engraving that Rick has produced here is incredibly detailed and deliciously realised.  Can you imagine the time it takes to carve such a thing out of a block of wood?  Check out the detail in the steam clouds, in Tom’s jacket, his face, in the pipework.  I love it, and am extremely honoured to have played such a small role in it’s creation.

There are two great versions of the song that inspired the engraving available on YouTube – the official video, and a mash up with the Cookie Monster.  (Yes, that Cookie Monster).  Both are posted below.

Web round up – interesting things found online this past while

Posted by on Sep 13, 2012 in On the interwebs | No Comments

In which I talk about being busy, a really clever purse that can charge your iPhone, yes, the new iPhone 5, the implications of said iPhone 5 on web designers, and how to build a good audience – as well as traffic – on your website.  Heady stuff.

Busy, busy, busy … If one more person tells me ‘well, it’s good to be busy …’ I’ll scream.  It’s not always good to be busy … it’s great to be focused, energised and have a bunch of stuff you need to get through, but that’s different from being busy.  

I recently read an article on being busy, actually, saying that generally, those who lamented how busy they were – well, it was usually people like me, struggling with their self-imposed busyness.  The fact that busyness is nearly always self imposed seemed instructional.  We should be able to do something about it.

A related point – there was a seminar I attended some time ago where the speaker stressed that if you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s likely that, rather than having too much to do, you’re probably just lacking focus.  Start getting done what needs doing.

Anyway, that’s not why I’m here.  I’m here to talk about a few bits I’ve found lately:

I’m really hoping that the Everpurse project gets funded on KickStarter before Christmas because then I’ll know what to get Laurena.

everpurse

The Everpurse is a little bag that you can put your iPhone in that charges it automatically.  So, when you’re carrying your bag around, your iPhone charges at the same time.  Neat.  You need to charge the bag itself – but that’s easy enough because it comes with a little mat you can place it on overnight.  Good idea.

There was an Apple conference just the other day where they launched the new iPhone 5.  This video summarises the main features of the new phone – but if you can’t be bothered to watch, I’ll summarise it for you: smaller, thinner, lighter, bigger, shinier.  It’s made entirely of glass and aluminium.  Shiny.

iphone5

I’m most interested in it (but only because I can’t justify buying one) from a web design perspective.  The larger screen opens up a new bunch of criteria to think about when designing responsive web sites.  We (that’s the royal we) tend to use the iPhone as a default standard when deciding on breakpoints for our web designs.  We know how much width we have to play with, how much height, and so on.  Well, the iPhone 5 changes that – which means having websites that are fully responsive – rather than based around fixed breakpoints – is increasingly important.  Neatly summarised in a .net magazine round up of what it all means.

Probably the question I get asked most is: ‘Do you do search engine optimisation?’  It sounds like such a simple question, doesn’t it?  Generally – depending on who’s asking – the answer is ‘No, but …’  And with the ‘But’, what follows is a lengthy answer to the question I think they’re really asking, which is: ‘How do I now build an audience for my website?’.  Which is a different question entirely.  One that has been answered more succinctly and elegantly than I could hope to, by Paul Jarvis, here

But if you don’t the sensible, practical strategy – this article is full of tactics with which you can implement the strategy!

seo-menu

And I think that’s about it for now.

5 great things online this week

Posted by on Aug 8, 2012 in On the interwebs | No Comments

I’ve been prompted to write this short blog post by the incredibly intriguing / beautiful looking concepts for re-inventing the email client.  It’s not just an exercise in fantasy either – there’s a real email client, based on the concept outlined above, coming eventually.

What I like about this re-working (well, the two things I like the most) is the system proposed for actioning emails, and the method for handling attachments.

Introducing ‘action steps’ to an email is perfect.  Marking an email as ‘read’ or moving it to a ‘to do’ list is inadequate.  Being able to assign action tasks to it is perfect.

email-reworked

Then, the handling of attachments … why has nobody thought of this before?  Being able to search my email and see every attachment in my inbox is genius.  The number of times I’m scrolling through emails looking for a paperclip icon … clicking it to see if it has the relevant attachment I’m after, then closing and moving to the next one … grrr.  This is perfect.  Check it out.

More on managing email

Second great thing  - and related to the above: Managing Email Realistically … GTD doesn’t work for me … so, how about a properly workable email management system?

Darwinian Importance

The importance of an email isn’t something you need to spend time thinking about. If it doesn’t immediately and obviously make you feel you should reply to it within the next day or two, it’s not that important to you. Archive or delete it.

If it’s sufficiently important to someone else, that person will expend effort to make it come back to you. If the email does not come back to you, you would have wasted your time replying to it. Win-win.

And related to this related item … a neat way of filtering your inbox with SaneBox.

sanebox

Side projects and Digg.com

I’ve a few side projects that I’m looking to get off the ground at the moment – and so this brief run down of turning a side project into a business was timely enough.  What they don’t cover though is the marketing of that business … list building is key – and something I’ve been reading a bit more about lately.

Fourth on the list … I was never a big fan of Digg.com – supposedly ‘what the internet is talking about right now’ (I thought that was Twitter or something?).  I could never get it to work for me – and couldn’t really see the point.  However, a small group of developers / engineers / editors recently bought the ‘core assets’ of Digg and set themselves the target or relaunching the whole thing in just 6 weeks.  They’ve done a pretty good job of it too – at least now I know how to use it.  Although the pinterest-ification of the home page leaves me a little cold.

Getting hacked online – not as much fun as you’d think

Lastly – this is a long read, but worth it.  Mat Honan was recently hacked online … and what happened next is a must-read.

In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook

Read the article and then turn on Google’s two-step verification process

Special bonus great thing

Okay, so what are we up to now?  A list of 5 wouldnt be complete without a number 6 … so, here’s a new Tom Waits video as a bonus.  It’s not the most, err, accessible song on the album – but this marching rant deals with the suicide of Jeff Lucey, a veteran who hanged himself shortly after returning from the Iraq war.  It’s not easy listening, but it’s a great video:

Around and about – useful links on responsive design, design process, and other bits

I haven’t done a round up post in a while but I’ve been out of the office for a few days and have come back to a mountain of RSS links – much of it extremely useful … so, here goes:

  • LeakedIn - worried that your LinkedIn password was one of 6.5million that were leaked this week, check with LeakedIn

At first glance, you’ll be thinking ‘why would I enter my password into this site?’ – and that’s a correct concern.  But the site has been set up by (among others) Chris Shiflett a web security expert and authority on all manner of things.  The worst of it is that if your LinkedIn password has been cracked well, you’re not going to be able to use that password any more for any site.  Cracked passwords will get added to ‘hacker dictionaries’ and will undoubtedly be used to populate ‘Rainbow Tables‘ (tools that hackers use for decrypting passwords).  Chris has a more detailed explanation here.  (My password was one of the ones cracked.  It wasn’t a strong password – and it was one I use on about a dozen sites … I’m now in the process of updating all of those sites with new, stronger passwords.)

leaked-in

Adapting our working practices to incorporate responsive web design – without adding a huge overhead to our clients, is a challenge many of us face right now.  Smashing Magazine have a good run down of how you might approach this.  The idea of a ‘priority guide’ is a good one – but this shouldn’t be new.  If you’re designing websites now and not taking note of elements that should be given priority over others, then you’re doing it wrong.  What is important though is that the move to smaller screens brings this back to the forefront of our attention.  It’s a good article.

More interesting perhaps is Trent Walton’s article addressing a broader set of circumstances: designing responsive sites effectively.  Switching a designer’s viewpoint from pixels to proportions is a good way to start.  Switching the clients perspective from pixels to proportions is a tougher challenge – but it’s our challenge, and maybe designing in the browser is one way to do it.

 Redefined%20%7C%20Trent%20Walton

Also related, front end style guides advocates designers developing their own code library for front end styles.  As Anna argues, it makes designs easier to test, leads to a better workflow and provides a useful reference through a project.  Creating one page with all your elements on it also allows you to test responsively before you start throwing elements into a page.  

Jeremy Keith has done something similar (I attended his workshop in Belfast earlier this year and this was a really strong take away).  And while we’re here, you can check out Starbuck’s style guide and marvel at how Twitter’s Boot Strap handles all of it’s components.

That’s enough of that.

  • this is neat … a search engine for sign language … just type in the word you’re after and you get a video demonstration of that word in American Sign Language

sign-language-search-engine

  • this guy is tweeting from space.  That’s right SPACE.
  • Mobile navigation issues … One of the challenges of mobile web design is what to do with the navigation.

Most websites have some sort of horizontal navigation across the top of the screen.  When acting responsively, it has become common place to replace that with a ‘select’ form element – allowing the navigation to take up much less screen real estate, whilst users can still quickly select the page they’re after.  Fine. It’s what I did with the Gerard O’Brien accountancy website.  It works okay – but it’s just one of the patterns that is becoming commonplace.  There are more here.

However, one that I’m really fond of is demonstrated by Roger Johansson – in which the navigation is still an unordered list (rather than being converted into a form element), but you only see the currently active item, and the rest of the menu is viewable via a little toggle link.  Nicely done.

Whilst we’re back talking about mobile design issues – google has released it’s guidelines to web developers for building smartphone optimised websites.  Nice to see that they advocate responsive design.

I think that’s it for now …

Creating e-books from existing web content

Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Design, On the interwebs | No Comments

This. Is. Awesome.

Readlist allows you to create ebooks from existing web content – and have that sent to your Kindle / iWhatever.  That’s just going to fit so nicely in with my life that I’m nearly weeping at the thought of it.  

For example, I spend the morning surfing the internet researching an upcoming project … I create a Read List, add to it some articles about the client, some industry articles, some design articles … save that list, pick it up on my Kindle, and head to the coffee shop to read the content (without adverts) and enjoy one of Tom’s delicious scones.

What’s a Readlist? A group of web pages – articles, recipes, course materials, anything – bundled into an e-book you can send to your Kindle, iPad or iPhone.

Go check it out.

Read Lists

The most common birth dates – an infographic

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

Everyone loves a good infographic.  This one shows which birth dates are most popular … as you might expect, September seems to be the most common month for birthdays … all that winter time cuddling … predictably, Feb 29th and Jan 1st are the 2 least common dates.  

Anyway, a nice heat map illustration of the data:

most-common-birth-dates-birthdays

(This is directly from the Daily Viz website here, taking data from this NYT article)

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