Palin does stand-up

March 7th, 2010 by Ian

This title is not a joke. I’m a big Sarah Palin fan. Some people say she has no knowledge of politics, foreign countries, science and has a shoddy grip on the whole human experience. Those people tend to be elitists (British translation: people with three-figure IQs). It’s a shame she never made it to VP. God, I love fireworks. Now she’s finally found something that everyone can agree she’s good at: stand-up comedy. Dems, Republicans, Libertarians, gays, Muslims, Jews and people who hold up “Jebus hates fagurts” banners at protests could all come together and enjoy some Palin stand-up. I don’t think it’s simply the top-flight jokes she tells, but the delivery. As Frank Carson said: “It is. The way. That you tell. Them.” The right wing in this country is in dire need of a proper comic since Bernard Manning went to the giant pie shop in the sky and Jim Davidson finally disappeared up his own backside (erm, I think. Either that or he lives in the UAE). I think she’d be honoring both the ‘special relationship’ and the needs of the British comedy circuit if she came over here and did a tour. We love you Sarah!

Even news-bots v1.4, v2, and 1.9(f) on Fox news agree with me. Great catch from v1.4 there as well: Palin isn’t “Our own”, she’s simply a contributor, silly! (In the same way ‘tea parties’ are in no way organized by the Murdoch ‘massive’). Just remember: Only Rush Limbaugh can make jokes about retards, so don’t expect that sort of humor from Sarah.

NASA fulfil their employees Star Wars fantasies

March 4th, 2010 by Ian

The latest batch of goodies sent up to the ISS included this cupola, which all true Tie Fighter fans will recognize.

Spot the difference

Spot the difference

Via Gizmodo

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

The ‘videogioco’ experiment

January 31st, 2010 by Ian

I’ve seen plenty of innovative animation before, but nothing quite like this. Drawings on paper are usually restricted to the paper they start on, but this video is very mobile.

Creative bankruptcy from the Apple iPad

January 28th, 2010 by Ian

The recently unveiled iPad is a metaphor for how Apple has turned away from those who create, to those who consume. Not only is the focus now on consuming at the expense of creating, but the way in which one consumes is very limiting. Here is why:

Apple have always been different. Despite some solid hardware and software design over the past few years, the biggest advantage Apple has is that it’s not Microsoft Windows. Partially because of this, Apple has been the faux-official computer manufacturer for creative folk. Musicians need an OS that doesn’t get in the way of their creativity. Visual artists knew they could install Photoshop on Windows, but on a Mac it felt like it belonged there. Designers not only loved the way the machines looked, but also the way they handled their creations without fuss (or BSOD). Writers and bloggers loved their (usually) good keyboards and subtle UI. For their efforts, Apple have been rewarded with loyal fans amongst those who create.

Image by HappyToast @ b3ta

Image by HappyToast @ b3ta

For some people the internet is a one way thing. You sit back and it washes over you. Videos of cats falling off chairs, news articles, online radio, pornography… whatever. For many people, however, the web is a two way conversation. Whether it’s through IM, writing blogs, commenting on Reddit or even uploading shot film to Youtube, the web isn’t there to just be stared at. The people who demand this contributory attitude are often the creative folk I mentioned before. An on-screen keyboard isn’t the best way to go about all this. Neither is a 9″ screen, but that’s fair enough. We’re all pretty much in agreement that Apple didn’t make this device for creating monstrous Photoshop artworks or hours long Reason jams. No, they made it for the consumption of already created works. So why, Apple, limit so unnecessarily the ways in which we can consume such works?

The answer of course is control and money. You have to get everything through iTunes which means Apple cash-in, big time. What is puzzling is why creative types so readily favor such a creatively-limiting device. It’s understandable in a way: Apple rescued us all from a Windows hell. But don’t they understand that Apples “everything has to flow through us, it’s for your own sake, citizen” attitude stunts creativity? How can a design community be approving of Apple products when their applications are removed from the store, and their time wasted. Not only is this app-store only, no-multitasking world so bad for innovation, but Apple have the gaul to pretend that they’re doing something new. In yesterdays keynote we were told that all these cheap, 1.6GHz netbooks were too slow to be useful. That’s not true. Again, if you want to to some major Illustrator work then it’s probably not the best choice, but we’ve already decided that these machines are for consumption, which i think many netbooks (be they Linux or Windows7) excel at. I know hardware isn’t the only thing that effects performance, but I’m not entirely sure how the 1GHz iPad processor is going to be that much faster.

As a web developer I have to accept that the Apple app-store approach is bad for the web. When one creates an application for the web, be it using the latest HTML5 techniques or Flash, one can be sure that everyone can use it. As crap as Flash is for online video, it excels in some areas (like casual gaming). But that would mean that Apple loose out to free online alternatives to many (if not most) apps in their store. Apple is creating an elite version of the web, for only those who pay them directly, and because of this the iPhone and the iPad must be seen as poisonous to the internet, just as iTunes is poison to the music industry.

Some other ‘features’ of note include: The design looks like it’s a parody from the Onion. I need someone to explain how if a base model costs £388 and the same model with 16GB more memory costs £122 more, then where the hell do they buy their memory? Did they seriously call it an ‘iPad’? Finally, whatever I say, Hitler always has a much better grip on these things.

Future of the Left play Sheffield

January 25th, 2010 by Ian

What’s the sign of a great band? Is it an ability to produce earworms? Many would say so, but I disagree. Otherwise Umbrella by Rihanna would make her, or whoever is operating the strings behind her, the finest artist of our times. I’m going to throw caution to the wind and say she/he/they/it are not. How about delivering songs with clever lyrics that even now, 3 days after I left the gig, won’t stop bouncing round my fucking brain? What if they were delivered over relentless, pounding riffs? Then package them in a compact 3-piece, dripping with a knowing indignation. Some vocals tinged with a mocking, yet not smug, sneer? That’d make a nice change from the usual angst that bands like this often bring. Future of the Left are not a bunch of whiny children. I wouldn’t say they’re angry, I’ve been threatened by Welsh people before and this isn’t like that. FotL are something else. Singer Andy Faulkous is ex-Mclusky, which is irrelevant (much as I liked them). FotL are their own band and are not being carried on the back of “oh, that guy was in Mclusky, we should check them out?”

Future of the Left @ Corporation, Sheffield

Future of the Left @ Corporation, Sheffield

In all honesty, I’m still reeling with disappointment from last years Interpol gig. Sure, I know they’re not the same deal as FotL, but the difference in showmanship was so dramatic. None of that disinterested, wandering, crossing of guitar cables whilst they prettend to look interested in their fret boards. No. The three members of FotL try so bloody hard, which combined with their competency in, seemingly, all areas of the craft results in one of the best shows I’ve seen. Their new album is very solid, consistent stuff and at this Sheffield Corporation show they played stuff from across their two albums. They hardly need to cherry-pick and I’m very glad that the well-thrashed synthesizer is with them.

I had seen a FotL show before at the Kasbah which, although a smaller venue (and thus better), didn’t leave the same impact on me. But now that they are 2 albums deep, they did. One benefit of Corporation was that it provided a number of hecklers whose only frame of reference to the Welsh people seemed to be late-night BBC3 repeats of Gavin & Stacey. Still, the band dealt with the hecklers in much the same way they seem to with anything else. Amusingly, harshly and definitively.

My first gig of the year and I’m very happy. I’ve spent all day at work trying to improve my javascripting with #“Mark Foley was right – there are no ghosts in this town, there is not reason to fear, there are no obstacles here” running through my head so screw you for that, Future of the Left, but please, please come back to Sheffield again.

Watch the music video to ‘The Hope That House Built‘ to get a vague frame of reference. It stars a donkey.

Schwarzenegger presents ‘Abadah’ at the Golden Globes

January 18th, 2010 by Ian

Everyone is talking about Gervais’ speech, but in the UK we’ve all seen his snively character do the same routine million times. Yawn. So here, for your entertainment, is the ever awesome Arnie talking about a film that he can’t pronounce. Rather cruel of whoever is in charge to get him to talk about Avatar, but it’s a routine that I will never tire of.

via Gotcha Media

Parks and Recreation is the Wu-Tang of Comedy

January 13th, 2010 by Ian

If it was anyone else I’d hate this, but for some reason RZA makes a pretty damn convincing Leslie Knope. Yeah, RZA again in non-RZA-like surroundings.

Parks & Rec. is pretty good, by the way. Now it’s entered season 2 and has stopped feeling like a cheap the Office rip off. It’s characters have, what’cha call it? Character.

How to Smack My Bitch Up

January 9th, 2010 by Ian

I don’t believe that The Prodigy’s album The Fat Of The Land is 12 years old. This YouTube shows what samples were used in lead track, Smack My Bitch Up and how to recreate the whole thing.

I was never aware of the Prodigy – Rage Against the Machine link. Hurrah for samples.

Via Fascinated