Archive for February, 2010

Damn the illusion of movement. Damn the illusion of movement to hell!

February 24th, 2010 by Ian

Don Hertzfeldt is a genius, and this has been proven time and time again to be fact. I just found this new (to me at least) video by him, The Animation Show. There is an awesome robot battle at the end and the 3d sequence sure beats Avatar.

Speak the Web: Leeds

February 16th, 2010 by Ian

Okay, this is a bit late (There has already been a Speak the Web: Liverpool event), but here are some brief thoughts from last Thursdays Speak the Web conference in Leeds.

Corn on the cob?

Corn on the cob?

Stuart Smith started with a brief (and quite amusing) history of the mobile web. He made the point that it’s not just iPhone users that we should build mobile websites for and that the typical mobile user was probably using a much less capable Nokia S40-based phone. He’s right of course, but he ignored the fact that iPhone users typically use the web on their mobiles much more than anyone else, but maybe that’s because the web often sucks so badly on the standard Nokia S40/60 browser? Still, he noted that countries like Uganda had quite advanced 4G networks so we, as developers, should be mindful of opportunities in places we otherwise are not mindful of. He also showed a slide of a corn-on-the-cob vibrator. Despite the other guys’ immaculately presented slides, this won the title of classiest slide of the night.

Opera was represented by Chris Mills. His talk had largely the same content as Bruce Lawson’s in Sheffield (so I won’t go into detail again). The HTML5 slides from Sheffield have been uploaded, by the way. He presented it in a similarly energetic way though, so I wasn’t bored hearing it again! I also learned that lots of people in Russia use Opera, but not many people who speak about Opera!

I’ve read a great deal by Andy Clark, on his blog, on Twitter and elsewhere on the web. He often goes under the name Malarkey so I shall refer to him as such. His talk can be summed up, I think, thus: Design for the clients you want and build for the web browser you want. I think this was what he meant by Hard Boiled web design. The concept of progressive enrichment (as opposed to enhancement), I think has its benefits. After all, even the appearance of the pages he showed us on tired old IE looked pretty nice.

I laughed when he showed us the IE6 stylesheet he’s been using for years. So sparse. I understand the need to bully IE users onto a more advanced browser, for the good of the web. I also feel no love for Microsoft. However, this approach just seems vindictive. The bulk of IE6 users are those poor souls working in government agencies and councils, the NHS and others who have no control over what browser they use. To give them such a poor online experience seems unnecessarily cruel. If they chose to use IE6 themselves, I’d say stuff ’em, but no one chooses to use IE6 these days. Of course Malarkey’s talk was a stark contrast to the boys from Cahoona who spoke in Sheffield: “Just give the client what he wants, regardless of whether it’s the best solution” (I’m paraphrasing). I wish them both well, but I think I’d rather work as Malarkey does. If I was in a position to do so of course!

All in all, another awesome conference. I think the audience was a bit more chatty and asked more questions than in Sheffield. Was this because Leeds has a more excitable bunch of design-types? Maybe, but I think it had more to do with how well the speakers got on. They ripped the piss out of each other in such a good-hearted way that I think it relaxed everyone. Malarkey even dropped a Hicks-approved oooOOOOh! bomb. First time I’ve seen it used ‘in anger’. I’d like to note that at both events there were some pretty friendly folk. It was a weird novelty for me that the first two people I said hello to in Leeds both noted that they had read my blog post about Speak the Web: Sheffield! Thanks once again to the guys who arranged all this.

Speak the Web: Sheffield

February 11th, 2010 by Ian
Make it shitter

Cahoona tell it like it is

Sheffield had its very own web conference in the form of Speak the Web and I had to go, due to the scarcity of such things in this town. Frustrating considering how many creative agencies there are round here. We’ve had TEDx North, which was great, but what I really wanted was something tailored for hungry designers and developers. It was held at the Showroom Cinema in town and the creators said that they wanted something akin to the atmosphere of a gig. Hence the £20 entrance fee. Although the only gig I’ve been to that cost more than 20 quid was Radiohead. But they didn’t give you a free drink.

Two chaps from Cahoona told us how they set up their agency, so of course there were the usual tales about living off pot noodles and worrying about the cash-flow. Their scotch-egg (sorry, Manchester-egg) heavy presentation was pretty well done and amusing. They had one legendary slide: “Make it shitter”. I think it was a reference to the problem that is often faced due to client-meddling. I guess their success shows that they deal with this meddling well, by caving into the request of the client, no matter how awful. I’m not 100% sure that’s how I’d run a web agency, but I understand their reasoning and hey… I’m probably never going to run a web agency. I dig their work though, especially their company website.

The nastiest slide in the world

This slide highlights the complexity of adding video to a webpage at the moment, due to nasty 'legacy' browsers

Bruce Lawson was the man from Opera. I’ve tried to use Opera on the Desktop and I always go back to Firefox (or Chrome), but he wasn’t here to pimp Opera. He was here to pimp HTML5, which Opera (especially Opera 10.5) supports pretty well. I’ve read quite a bit about HTML5 (including a lot at html5doctor, where Bruce writes) and the whole thing is quite exciting, but Bruce made it sound more realistic than I had previously imagined it was. My attitude has been that it is ‘for the future’, but now my attitude is that HTML5 is for now. The usual HTML5 video tricks were demonstrated, along with some stuff I didn’t know about, such as a totally different way that one can structure headings (Two H1s on a page? You have blown my mind!). Bruce wasn’t some crazy futurist though and he told us how, for example, we could get SVG-based graphics working in IE using VML. He didn’t go into too much detail (it wasn’t the time or the place for that) but he caused plenty of little sparks to fire in my brain.

Finally it was the turn of Brendan Dawes from magneticNorth. He was a great contrast to Bruce: all about the “Cushions”, the flash, fluff and visual niceties that make a website a website, rather than just a flat image. The best example he showed us of this, I think, was the shopping cart that smiled as you added products to it. A simple effect, but one that I can imagine makes a user happy. We were all children once and to bring that playful aspect into web design has got to have benefits. Although he may have sounded at odds with Bruce, the reality is that due to HTML5, CSS3 and some powerful js libraries, it is now possible for a good developer to make pages that are full of ‘Cushions’ but which are accessible and thus keep Bruce (and disabled people) happy. I hope they talked to each other after the event.

Brendan also pointed out that there weren’t many girls at this event and that it was a bit like a “gay club”. Firstly, a load of dudes in one place doesn’t constitute a gay club. If it did, then the Tory front-benches would be, well… less said about that the better. Secondly, we’re all well aware of the lack of women in technology. It needs sorting, but I think sometimes joking about the lack of women in tech isn’t terribly helpful.

So, in summary: this event was brilliant and all the speakers were interesting. I’m inclined more now to go to one of the local GeekUp events, which I think the people who arranged this conference are also involved with. To use the hosts analogy of a gig: it wasn’t as good as Radiohead, but it was a lot more interesting than that time I saw a side project by one of the guys out of Busted. Shudder.

The Speak the Web peeps have put up a better round-up on their page. I’m off to the event they’re running in Leeds tonight.

Nom nom nom nom

February 7th, 2010 by Ian

Carrot cake birthday

It was my birthday last week so Beth made me this birthday carrot cake. It’s a close 2nd to battenburg, but it had my name written on it so obviously wins. Delicious.

Links of the month – January

February 2nd, 2010 by Ian

I plan to do this more often, highlights I’ve found over the previous month. So without further ado…

A new Gill Scott-Heron album, you can listen to all the way through for free over at Pitchfork.

Some quite sharp web designers have taken to disagreeing with a lot of what Smashing Magazine throws up as biblical truth. One of the better examples of this is the article, In Defense of Vertical Navigation.

Boingboing provides some facts about sloths. They’re so happy all the time, they know what’s up. They know more than we or Boingboing could even imagine.

Ringo Star ain’t nuffin’ to fuck with. This is a fine, fine mash-up. It’s exactly what you’d imagine, plus news clips from the time, often highlighting the older folks mistrust of Beatlemania.

Augmented (hyper)Reality

February 1st, 2010 by Ian

Augmented reality as a concept has been round for ages now but there is a surge of interest in it every now and again. Most recently I think that smart-phones with reasonable processing power (read: iPhones, Android) have allowed applications to use augmented reality in a way that is actually useful. This video by Keiichi Matsuda paints a vision of the future. A vision that I, as someone who uses Adblock and skips through every single tv ad, personally finds a little nightmarish:

Keiichi Matsuda via BldgBlog