Don't Come Around Here No More

Posted on 31st May 2007

Recently I joined the Facebook community. Seeing as several coworkers were prompting me, and it looked to be a more social version of LinkedIn, I thought I give it a try. For the most part it is a fun site, although there are a few dodgy parts, but you kind of expect someone is going to try and push the barriers of taste on a site like this.

However, there was one aspect that really irritated me the yesterday, that although I found it on Facebook, I've come across similar things on several sites over the years, and is a failing of the web designers to actually understand their audience. In web design there is a lot of emphasis on usability for a very good reason. It is absolutely pointless having a beautifully crafted web site if your potential users can't use it. Now most designers do get the idea of keeping the navigation clear and easily available, and generally layout has gotten less busy over the years, but usability is more than just understanding where everything is.

Your site needs to be functional, even if that means you only have static pages that provide other ways for your users to interact with you, such as providing a contact address. To me, functional means doing something useful and not irritating your user base.

The part of Facebook that fails this part of functionality, and irritates the hell out of me, is taking your users on a trail that is a pointless dead-end and completely wastes the users time even bothering to follow it. If you have ever clicked to 'Add a friend', then you will most likely be presented with a box that requests you to enter the CAPTCHA. Just above the box is a link that implies you can forego this CAPTCHA if you verify yourself. So I thought I do just that. The next page then asks you for your mobile phone number. As I didn't want to give them my personal mobile number, I thought I'd use my works mobile. Unfortunately I'm very bad at remembering phone numbers, so it took me a few minutes to find it. I entered the number and click to get verified. I was then presented with an error message which to me, reading between the lines, said "no you dolt, an American mobile phone number, because you know, obviously ONLY the interesting people are in America". No it doesn't actually say that, but it might as well have.

If you offer a piece of functionality that is only available to a small sliver of your potential audience, SAY SO! It isn't difficult. At the CAPTCHA they could so easily have in brackets "(available for US residents only)". It would have be midly disappointing that it was only available to a select group, but at least I wouldn't have wasted my time trying to use functionality that I was never going to be allowed to access, or felt insulted by the implication that I should have known this.

File Under: design / usability / web

Can't Be Sure

Posted on 28th May 2007

"England my country the home of the free,
Such miserable weather!"

I was hoping to take Ethne to her first music festival yesterday, The Abbey Park Festival in Leicester, but torrential rain put a stop to that. In fact this month could quite easily have been mistaken for March, as we seem to have had much more rain this month than during any other during the year so far.

I used to attend The Abbey Park Festival regularly when I lived in Hinckley, and it was always a great day out. You'd get to see some great bands, usually I would bump into friends and best of all it was free. In later years they charged a nominal fee of a few pound just to help with the costs, but I noted this year it was again free, but visitors were invited to make a donation. Considering that over the two days the festival is on you can get to see about 20 or more different acts, it's a bargain. Many are unknown local acts, but considering that Leicester has had its fair share of unknown acts playing on the bill, who have gone on to make a name for themselves, it's a good opportunity to see some of the stars of the future.

Hopefully the weather holds out a little better next year, and we can have a family day out. Mind you now I'm just going to have to look to see what other family orientated music festivals are happening around the midlands and see whether are worth attending. Our friends Bleeding Hearts are playing a few, so we'll have see if we can make one of those :)

File Under: music / rain / weather

Rockin' the Paradise

Posted on 25th May 2007

The Sears Tower, Chicago

The Sears Tower, Chicago

In June 2006 I attended and spoke at the YAPC::NA Perl Conference in Chicago. It was great to meet up with several people I'd met in Toronto, but it was also a bit odd discovering that I wasn't as anonymous as I was last year. In Europe more people recognise me as I've been to every YAPC::Europe Perl Conference and have been involved in several other activities where people have got to know me. But apart from my appearance at OSCON in 2000 (when nobody bar the guys knew me), I wasn't expecting to be so easily recognised. It was good to put a number of names to faces though and it was a very enjoyable conference.

There was one downside though. On the morning of the last day of the conference I got called by work. Seeing as I was part of the CPR team, I was oncall 24/7 regardless of the fact I wasn't in the UK. Thankfully I didn't have to worry about it conflicting with my talk as I'd already done it. However, it did mean I had to disappear for a while as I set up jobs to go and do the task I needed to do. I'm rather glad that firstly I used screen and secondly that I'd got all the jobs running that I needed to. As while getting up to plug in the power cable, my laptop got knocked on the floor. Had I powered down and shut the laptop, it might not have been so bad, however, it was open and running. I managed to truly trash the laptop, as later investigation seemed to indicate the bus connector to both the DVD/CD writer and the hard disk drive had been damaged beyond repair. Despite swapping the HDD to another laptop, it also appears I complete wrecked the connectors to the HDD. There wasn't enough on the drive (apart from the photos I'd taken over the first few days) to warrant paying for it to be scanned professionally, so it got binned.

At first I thought that I'd now lost all my photos from the conference and was a little downhearted. As a consequence I didn't take the camera to the speakers dinner event that Josh and Heather had laid on after the conference, and I didn't bother taking any photos the following day either. Thankfully, JJ gave me a program to recover image files from portable media, and got back pretty much everything bar the first day of the conference, which unfortunately are now lost due to me writing over them with pictures from the last day. The lesson I've learnt is that to use multiple media to record photos and don't write over anything until you've had a chance to back them all up safely.

The conference was great though, and I did enjoy wandering around the city. On the first day Cog and I went up to the Skydeck of The Sears Tower, walked down to see The Water Tower and visited The Apple Store, where we caught quite a cool band, called The Ruse. For the Early Arrivals Dinner, we ended up near Wrigley Field, where the White Sox play, while the conference itself is close to ? where the Cubs play. Didn't get to see a game, but I do plan to revisit the city again. I never even took the time to check out any blues clubs, so I owe it to myself to go back really ;)

This year's conference is in Houston, so I'm hoping I can go and visit the Saturn rocket at The Lyndon B Johnson Space Centre while I'm there.

File Under: chicago / conference / perl / yapc

Another Town, Another Train

Posted on 23rd May 2007

Crewe Alexandra FC

Crewe Alexandra FC

Dario Gradio is the longest serving manager in English league football. In fact he's possibly the longest serving football manager in the world. On July 1 2007, he plans to hand over the reigns of Crewe Alexandra to the first team coach, Steve Holland, after 24 years as manager. Dario isn't leaving the club, as he will take on the role of Technical Director, but he will be missed as he's made a significant impact on the club and fans, even rivals, and will leave a lot to live up to, with an amazing legacy that will be a long time before anyone equals or betters it.

From the age of 11, I went to Crewe County Grammar School on Ruskin Road (now a comprehensive), and passed Gresty Road on the bus to and from school for 5 years. During the 70s the club was the butt of several jokes, as they were always struggling near the bottom of the fourth division. I can remember a few times when they were fighting relegation into the Conference League. I left Crewe in 1982, a year before Dario took over at the club. Partly because I missed the town and partly because I didn't feel any affliation to any club near Hinckley, my support of Crewe Alexandra grew. I've never been much of a football fan, but I did follow their exploits in the press and watch the games whenever they got televised, but I wasn't what you would call a die hard fan. For a while I was a member of the Alex Exiles, but never got to any of the meetings, as they mostly seem to congregate in London.

I still feel that my club is Crewe Alex, and even DanDan has answered Crewe Alex when he's been asked who he supports. The reaction is quite amusing, as he gets quite a lot of respect. That's mostly thanks to Dario Gradi, as he's been the longest serving manager for a good reason. He's given the Railwaymen a club to be proud of. Next time I go up to see friends in Crewe, I'm hoping to drop by the club shop and get DanDan some memorabillia. A 2006/7 strip would go down nicely, so he can wear it when he goes to football practice. Maybe I'll even get to take him to a game next season too ;)

File Under: crewe / football

Fan Mail

Posted on 20th May 2007

Dear Spammer,

Why are you bothering to try and spam this system. If you even bothered to check back after you'd posted, you'd note that your scheming spamming tricks don't work. This site has a very strict filtering system that you will not get through, so please don't bother.

This site gets hit by spammers at least once a day. However, as the backend gets to see more of these spammers, the less I get to see them. Hopefully it'll get to the point I see maybe the occasional post once a week, or once a month or even better never. The Scooter Do also has a similar detection in the backend, and both are accummulating a notable amount of knowledge. I've been wary of using something like SORBS, as for email is not reliable enough, but seeing as most spamming systems tend to use these open proxies, the chances are that legitimate posters won't be on those lists. So, I've started to look at using Net-DNSBLLookup, to see how well I can integrate it with what I have. It will hopefully mean I only need to clean the database once in a blue moon :)


File Under: spam / technology

Somebody's Watching Me

Posted on 13th May 2007

I've had tracking code in Labyrinth for sometime, but it's mostly to track popular galleries and photos. It does count pages, but nothing as detailed as Google Analytics. I'd heard interesting comments about this Google service, and seeing as I can't use their AdSense service for any practical purpose, I thought I give it a try. So for the past few days I've been adding the appropriate code into several of my sites. I was looking at the reports this morning for some of the more popular sites and they make interesting reading.

Many of the sites are specifically aimed at the UK audience, so it's not too surprising to see the majority of visits are from UK residents. However, some, particluarly my Perl sites, are of global interest so I'm hoping to spot any interesting trends, and identify the popular pages. It's early days yet, but so far my CPAN Testers Statistics site is popular in Germany and the US. It'll be interesting to see what the analytics report when the CPAN Testers Wiki finally goes live.

However, the biggest benefit to using Google Analytics, is that I can show anyone I do sites for, a more active response to their site. Kev is always quite keen to see what the response is like after The Scooter Do has an event. The gallery for the night always seems popular, but now we'll be able to see whether that's true and whether site visitors browse the rest of the site.

File Under: google / technology / usability / web

Wordy Rappinghood

Posted on 12th May 2007

You may have noticed the addition of the image links on the side panel (unless you read this via a syndication feed). I am now officially scheduled as both a speaker and BOF leader at both this year's LUGRadio Live in Wolverhampton and at YAPC::NA in Houston. Click the links for more info.

At LUGRadio I'll be doing my Selenium talk that I've been presenting at several of the events on the Birmingham Perl Mongers World Tour. I wanted to speak again this year, but was struggling to think of something to speak about. Aq saw me do my Selenium talk and insisted I do that :) I'll also be organising a Perl Mongers BOF, which is primarily to encourage attendees to get involved with their local Perl Monger group, but will probably be a general Perl thing. If you're going to the event, please come and say hello.

However, before LUGRadio Live I have to prepare myself for the North American YAPC. Unwittingly I've managed to volunteer myself for 3 talks (lasting over 2½ hours), together with a 1 hour BOF. However, I'm also likely to be involved in 2 other BOFs, so I'm going to be extremely busy during the conference. Thankfully all the talks will be based on presentations I've given before, so I don't have to start from scratch, although there is a lot more material I'll be adding.

I'm quite surprised that the Houston guys have accepted me to talk so much. But seeing as both YAPC::NA and YAPC::Europe last year and this year have extended the event to fill 4 rooms, they can have a wider breadth of talk subjects and accept more talks. This will be my 10th YAPC, although only the 6th I've spoken at. I'm really looking forward to going, but I keep getting warned it'll be hot. Just so long as they serve Guinness I'll be happy ;)

File Under: conference / lugradio / opensource / yapc

Fly Like An Eagle

Posted on 2nd May 2007

I've been a long time fan of space photography, partly fueled by watching the movements of Jodrell Bank's Lovell Radio Telecope from my bedroom window when I lived in Holmes Chapel. Although I have never been moved enough to become an astronomer, I did used to enjoy looking at the stars in the night sky of an evening sitting on the nearby hills and watching Patrick Moore telling what to look for on The Sky At Night. These days I seem to keep meeting people who are astronomers in their spare time, and some have managed to get some amazing photographs, even though they are earth bound.

Recently I came across a site that features the Top 100 photographs taken from the ESA/NASA Hubble Telescope. All the photos are absolutely amazing, but the one that really impressed me was the one pictured on the right. There is something rather majestic about that photograph, and the colours are stunning. If I ever become the next Mark Shuttleworth and become a space passenger, I'd probably spend my whole time glued to the window .... with my trusty camera of course ;)

File Under: photography / space

Smoke Get In Your Eyes

Posted on 1st May 2007

There is some talk of resisting the forthcoming government ban of smoking in enclosed places. Being a non-smoker I'm going to be quite relieved to not go home stinking of someone's smoke after a night out. If you're a smoker, take a step back and ask yourself the following:

  • Would you light up at a restaurant?
  • Would you light up at your work place, if you work in an office?
  • Would you light up in the cinema?
  • Would you light up on the bus?

In many cases, hopefully most, you'll have answered no. However, it wasn't that long ago that you could quite happily do all of the above without worrying about being fined or worse. The latest moves to make pubs smoke free, at least inside, will eventually become as expected as the 4 places listed above.

Although it doesn't stop me from going out, I do know of others who avoid smokey pubs for health reasons. For non-smokers it isn't a nice taste or smell to have to endure. I already help pay for the damage done through smoking related illnesses, I'd rather that money was spent on treating conditions and diseases that sufferers have not bought upon themselves.

File Under: government / law / rant / smoking

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