Saturday, December 23, 2006

Tell people something...!

I'm still at home in London, having been supposed to be flying out with my wife to Geneva on Thursday to visit her mother for Christmas. Personally, I blame the fog! But, seriously, I have been fairly unimpressed with the airline and airport integrated communications systems: airport sites held rudimentary messages pointing you to airline sites for more information, unfortunately, Swiss (International Air) with whom we were flying had not a single message about the fog-related cancellations on its site: no information as to whether to turn up to the airport or not, whether flights would be cancelled or not... OK, so move to the telephone - where none of the numbers listed appear to be in working order. So we rang numbers in Switzerland, but could not get through - in the end we were lucky, and managed to get in contact with the airline first thing the next morning - but what I am wondering is "why make it so difficult to let your customers know what is going on?". There was chaos at Heathrow, and I'm sure some of this is down to the fact that people HAD to turn up to the airport to even get close to speaking to someone or finding out what was going on. In our case, in the end, Swiss were as helpful as one could expect given the circumstances and time of year, but only once we had jumped through hoops to get in touch with them. So, where next, customer service?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What do you actually use...?

I'm an inveterate fiddler with online tools - I sign up for betas when I can, and have a fiddle and a play, and - to be honest - a number of online applications have worked their way into my everyday way of working. Some of these I've mentioned on my blog, and others I just get on with and use.

Just recently, I've been thinking that I ought to review all the social software and online applications to which I am signed up, and figure out which I am using now that I could replace with improvements, which tools I could have been using but have neglected to do so in any coherent way, and which tools I can just do without - no matter how cool. I'd then like to work out what the unifying themes are with these tools, why and how I actually use them and the benefits they deliver to me.

I suppose a very quick shortlist includes Basecamp, Gmail, Google analytics, Blogger, delicious, and bloglines, but there are ithers - such as PageFlakes - which I use more irregularly, but could see myself using more if I get myself into gear. If anyone else has engaged in a similar review, I'd be interested in hearing the results.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A really good DOM discussion...

Via the Web Standards Project, I just discovered Douglas Crockford's "Theory of the DOM" (this is part 1). I've just sat down and watched part one, and it's great - succinct and clear, and helps to clarify a number of issues in your mind.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Windows Live Writer...1, 2, 3 testing!

I'm just having a fiddle with Windows Live Writer to post a message to my blog. I have used a Word plug-in occasionally (and have never bothered with emailing in posts - I always figured it would be useful if I had a Blackberry!) but usually stick to logging in directly through Blogger (or Blogger Beta as is the case at the moment).

It hasn't managed to download my styles, but hey - it doesn't matter that much, I'll maybe try again later.

The interface is nice and clean:

It's easy to insert images, and format them.

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Technorati tags were easy to drop in (and other tagging providers - Flickr,  - are also available).

You can also add in Google Maps and links are easy to drop in (also with "rel" attributes). I'm looking forward to microformat insertion - as I believe that may also be possible. My only negative so far is that they need to add "technorati" and "flickr" into their spell checker index - seems daft that they throw up as mis-spellings when they are used by the application itself.

[UPDATE] When trying to post this message, I was unable to publish it. A little research indicated that you need the latest update for Live Writer to work with Blogger Beta. I've also tried to install the Flickr third-party plug-in which is not working at present, but I'll keep trying with that.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Connection Woes

I haven't posted in a while, partly owing to some major problems in getting a broadband connection to my new flat in Blackheath. The nub of the problem appears to have been an LLU marker remaining on the line for the previous tenants broadband/phone package. I have discovered in the process that there is major confusion between service providers and BT , not helped by the division of BT into millions of little autonomous pieces.

I had decided to return to Pipex, whom I had used for three years or so - and been very satisfied with - while living in Glasgow. Big mistake! The Pipex of 2006 appears to have no relation in customer service to the incarnation I knew and respected.

Initially, they were helpful: Pipex informed me of the LLU marker and sent me off to BT to get it removed. I managed to track down the marker removal service, who told me Pipex needed to request the marker removal. Pipex told me I needed to request it. I begged BT and they very kindly removed it. I contacted Pipex - "no, the marker is still there" came the response. I rang back the next day and was told the marker had gone (joy!) and that in three weeks I would have my adsl.

Oh dear - three weeks later still no broadband, and Pipex told me that they had reassigned the work, but that it would be done in 11 days time. Oh double dear, no broadband in 11 days - apparently the LLU marker had re-appeared. So more phonecalls, with one Pipex employee suggesting that with this issue in place we should not have been sold the service in the first place. Eventually, I was told to go back to BT to get the marker removed again.

Well, reader, I voted with my feet - I called NTL who installed cable, and I'm now set up with a 2Mb connection (admittedly less than the up to 8Mb service from Pipex) within 10 days as opposed to the three months of travails with Pipex. The moral of this story at present - in my own experience - is steer clear of any company advertising itself with David Hasselhoff!!!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New Look

After looking decidedly in need of some attention for several months, the look-and-feel of this blog, has just had a 30-second overhaul care of the new Blogger Beta. In the spirit of Bertrand Russel's In Praise of Idleness, this involved using one of the Blogger pre-packaged templates! I'll be playing around with this to make the site a little more unique when I get the chance, so do expect a few changes - I also need to delve into the new features of the beta (although the addition of tags is great).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Too cool for school - contextual ajax comments

I haven't played about with this too much, but this set of Wordpress meets Yahoo UI comments from Jack Slocum is simply too cool for school. I like it because it gets away from the web page as a document model - and moves towards content chunking ("I'm interested in this bit, thank you")...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Note Taking

I'm still trying to find the ideal note taking tool that can hold all my thoughts together. I tried TiddlyWiki for a while, until it lost two separate sets of conference notes (despite a rigorous saving routine), and am now having a fiddle with Google Notebook - which looks like it is great for online research, but very specific to that. But I was surprised that I had never heard of Microsoft OneNote, which looks like it could be very useful in the MS environment which exists at my workplace. Think I'm going to download the trial version in a couple of weeks and see where it takes me...all good for personal knowledge management.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Form Follows Function...Follows the Web

I'm probably slow getting to this, and doubtless this has been blogged already, but I noticed in today's Financial pages of The Guardian (I've noticed a few things in its hallowed pages today) that the article "bulking up in the drugs industry" contained blue, underlined keywords which were then further defined in a call-out box. I think it's really interesting that a print publication is using the default hyperlink formatting to indicate "more information" - the influence of the WWW continues to grow.

A Catalogue of Errors

From today's Guardian Education Supplement somes Improbable research: a catalogue of errors, an article highlighting the need for knowledgeable, experienced library staff. The problem: foreign language books being mis-filed and therefore "languishing unfindable in libraries". The example: Gaelic books being catalogued under "na" ("the" in Irish Gaelic), for instance "Na fir" ("The Men") not being catalogued under "Fir".

"Imagine if The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark were all filed under 'T'"
Marc Abrahams


Monday, September 25, 2006

Spry from Adobe

While it's not quite standards compliant, I have been enjoying scratching the surface of Adobe's Spry - which seems like one of the easier Ajax frameworks to use.

Perhaps I am attuned to it because we have been working with FLEX 1.5 (not 2.0 yet - shame!!!) and the two approaches seem like close cousins. Likewise the controls and effects available seem to ape the core FLEX items.

Anyway, I used the accordian for a wee training package (within the firewall) this week, and it works like a dream. I'm going to fiddle about some more when I get a chance and look at binding to data sources and tabbed interfaces...

Ajax edit in place - NIFTY

Via Tim’s Weblog – here’s Joseph Scott’s edit in place: you too can have Flickr type user entry fields!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Best Best Practices

I'm working on redeveloping our company best practice knowledgebase, but - as with much knowledge - feel that all of the focus has been on codification, with little emphasis on the more human aspects, namely idea generation, capture, ongoing best practice discussion and amendment (lifecycle), and transfer for validation through use (a.k.a. knowledge replication). I'm trawling through as much as possible on After Action Reviews, Post Project Reviews (we are a project based organisation), flows of knowledge, patterns and anti-patterns, and so on and so forth, so if anyone has any thoughts or experiences or best practices for best practices, please get in touch with me and let me know...

(...and I should add that I prefer better practices as a term (not just "good" and continually improving).)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Much stuff...

I don't generally write much about "Design" (with a capital "D") and Art in my blog - as it has always been information-focused, but this weekend has inspired me to temporarily expand my remit.

First, to the Tate Modern on Friday night for Walter Ruttman's 1927 silent opus, "Berlin, die Sinfonie der Grossstadt" (or "Berlin, Symphony of a great [sic] city" as it seems to be referred to in English) accompanied by DJ Spooky's electrifying mixing. The great thing about the immersive soundtrack from this New York DJ was that it emphasised the modernity of both Berlin in the twenties (my guess is that this was filmed before the period of hyperinflation) and of Ruttman's cutting - all plenty of jump-cuts and Eisenstein-like references to the animal nature of humankind (lions, polar bears, monkeys and fighting dogs in particular). If DJ Spooky is playing this again in your neck of the woods, then I suggest heading along...

On Thursday, I headed to the Framfab offices (formerly "Oyster") in Clerkenwell to hear perhaps the best presentation I've been too at the UK usability professionals association (UKUPA). The presentation was about the artefacts used in medical shift handover in a UK paediatric unit, and was fascinating.

Wednesday was spent at Adobe Live at Olympia - the Web presentation I attended was thoroughly disappointing although Hoss Gifford was entertainingly scatological. As ever the best thing about these events is the opportunity to ask questions about technologies - Adobe 3D, FLEX 2.0, and the ARP framework popped up for me(by the way, if Javier from Tequila is reading this, send me an email - I seem to have list your details!).

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I've been busy over the past few months at work, and somehow have let the blog slip into a state of disrepair. I desperately need to change a whole bunch of design and functonality, but don't ever seem to have the time. I promise to sort the crud out soon... (that's a promise to myself, so I may not keep it!)

In my defence, I've been busy beavering away, including looking at standards-based design, frameworks and patterns (both UI patterns and programmmatic patterns) from an efficiency and future-proofing perspective, and I'm pretty surprised at the lack of overall coherency in the online field. Great work like microformats seems to have less of a wow factor than Ajax, even though it is - in my opinion - likely to be a longer-lasting "Web 2.0" (a pointless watchword that I don't like to use - and yes, I know, so is "Ajax", but at least it explains its purpose) effect. Maybe Bil Gates' recent comments may change this situation...

The web is starting to settle around XML-based structures such as XHTML, RDF, SPARQL etc. )or at least appears to be doing so), CSS is widening in its usage, and the bad-old boys of Flash and JavaScript are growing up (FLEX and DOM scripting) into better behavioural tiers in the n-tier web application field. But why is it that so much good work is still so distributed across a wide range of unrelated sites. I'd love Microsoft to port microformats to .net, to ensure Atlas is fully standards compliant, to put together a rapid series of patterns (a la Yahoo) to tie these into a rapid application development ennvironment (a la Ruby on Rails) - because the vast majority of websites are trying to achieve identical tasks in terms of user interaction and functionality and only differ in the design detail and the mix of base technologies being used: LAMP, coldfusion, JSP and Java, .net, Ruby, Python, Perl etc.

I don't think such wide-ranging platforms would dent creativity in any way - they'd just free information architects, systems architects, developers, usability experts and the like to focus their efforts on the problems that have yet to achieve a commonly-used, well-implemented, easy-to-maintain, efficient an usable solution. I think we're long overdue some more abstraction, and some rallying around a more coherent cause than the nebulous Web 2.0 (much as I love its connectivity sentiments).

Let's put some knowledge management into web development...and next time I promise to think before I start tapping away at the keyboard, as this post has turned out as messy as my blog is looking at present.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Architecture and Information Architecture

I just wonder how often there is a crossover between construction architecture and information architecture? On the receiving end of a presentation today about a new method of construction better practice approach, I was struck with how closely the aims and techniques matched with those of IA and user-focused design. I suppose this is not strange, in that, generically speaking, the more early planning you can pull into a project the more efficient an outcome is the usual result, and the sooner you involve all involved stakeholders in this, the better also (no matter what the field of practice).

The architecting and blueprint metaphors have probably become diluted over the past five years of IA practice as it has carved its own niche, but it's sometimes worth going back to the roots of the term - naming is a political action of choice, after all...

Thursday, February 02, 2006


The rash of "isn't blogging cool" stories is really beyond the pale now. Please, get over yourselves, people can be journalists too, you know. My annoyance was stimulated by "Unhappy, then it's time to begin a blog" in the Evening Standard this evening. Frankly I've had enough.

So, read my lips - blogs are to websites as journals are to books: regular, direct, unmediated communication by individuals or organisations to a relatively unmediated audience. Stop worrying about the concept of "blog", this is just the technical framework that makes this stuff happen, and that helps to tie the communicative and social aspects of "the blog" together. Think about the explosion of newsletters that happened when DTP software hit the desktop - they were still just newsletters (and of very variable quality): blogs are just websites.

This I think is what is bothering journalists, and why there are so many blog-related stories. They aren't grasping that the whole (and I'm going to use an uncool word from times here) disintermediation aspect is what is important - people becoming regular, read writers (or should I say authors and journalists?). Instead, they are writing articles based on Big Brother psychologists (Honey Langcaster-James) saying:

"Keeping an online diary could prove to be highly rewarding and have psychological and emotional benefits"

Take out the word "online" here, and what changes? The only real difference between being online and offline here is that it is likely that your innermost thoughts may be read by someone. The whole benefit of online diary writing is the construction of a persona, which can remain relatively anonymous if one so chooses - this is the liberating perspective.

As the latest AOL ad campaign in the UK puts it, DISCUSS...

Friday, January 27, 2006

The year in cities

Following the lead of lots of other people, here's my 2005 in cities, and then 2006 so far.


  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Dundee, Scotland
  • London, England
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Savannah, US
  • Washington D.C., US
  • Charleston, U.S.
(Probably a number of others I can't remember)


  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • London, England

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ethnography...sitting and watching

I realy liked the following comment from a colleague recently. I had been along to Microsoft in SOHO to see Louise Ferguson speak on "Ethnography and how it can inform design", and was asked:

"What's ethnography?...Isn't it just a posh word for sitting around watching people do things?"

Well, that's my pomposity well and truly pricked!

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ASP and valid XHTML output

I hadn't realised until the other day that there are issues with ASP outputting valid XHTML strict. Apparently ASP 2.0 can do it, but 1.0 has a couple of interesting quirks that can cause issues that are rather tough to work around. Owing to time constraints, I'm considering switching our doctype to Transitional just to allow for the fact that ASP is throwing up a input of type hidden, and giving a form element a name attribute owing to our use of viewstate - a real kluge, but easier than the full-blown solution (extending the HtmlForm Control), or trying to find another way to maintain the viewstate. Ho-hum.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Another cool Flickr mashup

Check out Retrievr - it works best if you draw blocks of colour rather than trying to draw "things". Great fun, and a nice way of thinking about object recognition and visual search.