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James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!

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Archive for April, 2010

One thing I missed out on while using Google’s hosted version of JQueryUI was that some widgets and functionality require your page to link in a theme.

I was scratching my head as to why some UI functionality seemed to be working (e.g. draggable), but other functionality was not (e.g. resizable, tabs); and linking in a theme was the answer.

It doesn’t seem to be well documented, but Google also host a number of default themes, which may be included thus:

<link rel=“stylesheet” href=“http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/{version}/themes/{theme_id}/jquery-ui.css” type=“text/css” />

So, the Cupertino theme can be linked in to version 1.8.1 thus:

<link rel=“stylesheet” href=“http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jqueryui/1.8.1/themes/cupertino/jquery-ui.css” type=“text/css” />

More information here (NB. links use an old version of JQueryUI).

http://www.stemkoski.com/jquery-ui-1-7-2-themes-list-at-google-code/

A great optimisation for many modern websites is to farm out the hosting of linked items, such that the client browser can receive your base page code (HTML) and then pull media in from a number of directions.

Google host a number of JavaScript APIs which may be linked freely be anyone who signs up for a free Google API key.

Adding a library this way:

  • Reduces the load on your server- one less thing to push.
  • May well be quicker for the client- Google have a fast worldwide architecture, and the library may also be cached from a visit to another site.
  • Means less code for you to manage (and FTP up).

On the downside:

  • You’re reliant on an additional system- which adds an extra potential failure point to the process (this may make a page more likely to part-load than completely fail – which may or may not be advantageous).

Google currently host multiple versions of JQuery, JQueryUI,Prototype, Script.aculo.us, MooTools, Dojo, SWFObject, YUI library, Ext Core, and their own native APIs.

This month’s SuperMondays event pulled the magnifying glass over the first intake of tech start-up accelerator, The Difference Engine.

Jon Bradford opened with an introduction to the scheme- a model which runs most successfully in the US (they have ten placements to every one in Europe).

The Difference Engine provides seed fund and mentoring for promising tech projects, in exchange for an 8% business stake. £20k funding is provided (from a mixture of public and private investment) and the mentoring runs over a 13 week period at Middlesbrough’s Boho One.

Introductions, contacts and experience are brought to the fledgling teams, and after the incubation period, they are given the opportunity to demo to venture capitalists in the North and London.

This first round had 70 applicants across Europe, of which 10 were selected (and one was lost before the 2nd March start).

He was followed by representatives from five of the nine groups:

(Interested parties should be able to glean information about their projects from Twitter feeds)

The remaining four start-ups are headed by:

Further info:

Eric Ries explains Taiichi Ohno’s “Five Whys” and its application for process improvement in the software industry.

Executive summary

  • When a problem occurs, it can be broken down to errors at various levels.
  • We clearly and concisely formalise five of these and attach a positive corrective action to the process for each.
  • We assign a ‘proportional investment’ to each of the corrective actions, being careful not to over-allocate resources in a reactionary way.
  • Propose the corrective actions to the whole team and respond to their reactions.
  • Over time, corrective actions become incorporated – gradually improving flow.
  • This focusses on process enhancement, and attempts to mute any technical bias.
  • Reoccurring (80-20) problems will pass through multiple times, causing incremental but proportionate refinement, and will eventually be weeded out.

Scott Belsky presents some pointers for us to introspect and improve on.

Executive summary

We can benefit by:

  • Reducing constant distraction from a stream of incoming communications- tune out or homogenise these.
  • Organising projects into ‘action steps’ (immediately relevant), ‘backburners’ (maturing, and potentially irrelevant) and ‘references’ (mostly irrelevant paraphenalia).
  • Taking meetings only when required and focussing on producing ‘action steps’.
  • Reducing ‘insecurity work’ (i.e. metric minutiae)- become aware, delineate and delegate this.
  • Endure the ‘project plateau’ – push on through this rather than hopping to the exciting initial phase of a new project.

Dr. Frank Echenhofer proposes of a cycle to describe the generation of imagery under the influence of a psychoactive (ayahuasca)  or within a meditative state.

This cycle may also loosely map to the antagonism and resolution occurring within a dream, and could perhaps also be applied to conscious creativity or directed problem solving.

I hope my interpretation does not do his work an injustice!

Form Dismantling and Healing

Descendent: Negative, haunted, hurtful. ‘Letting go’.

1. Enhanced Conflicting Energy (clearance)

Uncovering the unresolved and potentially tortuous aspects.

2. Tolerating Overwhelming Experiences (the gateway)

Approaching the issue- circling and deconstruction (dismantling of form).

3. Dismantling of Self-Schema (rebirth)

The germination of the new form. The loss of conscious control. This may be a positive or negative experience.

Form Creation

Uplifting: positive and transcendent

4. Enhanced inner attunement (focus)

Awareness of the components.

5. Enhanced form fluidity (awareness and wash)

Exploration.

6. Enhanced compressed complexity (collapse and collation)

Formation of detail and form consolidation.

Form Expression

Resolution

7. Enhanced field complexity (a broadened perspective)

An appreciation of the generative field, i.e. the structure surrounding the invention.

8. Enhanced vertical attunement (escalation)

An acceleration of the thought process- the ‘mind-blowing’ stage.

9. Enhanced horizontal attunement (sharing)

An openness and diffusion of the generated form.

Gradual Self-Improvement

Each time we undergo the cycle, we get better at the stages, more adept at stabilisation and more skilful at expression. There is, however, never any guarantee that the cycle will complete successfully once started.

My own interpretation of the final phase is that broadcasting the final form can, under the right conditions, push it into the start of the cycle for others and, thus, can form a chained ‘collective consciousness’.

I picked my MSi Wind from the Easter sale at local tech shop, ComputerOrbit for £250. It’s the first time I’ve owned a netbook.

Build

Form and finish – It’s a nice shape, easy to handle and professionally styled. The gloss white finish is crisp and doesn’t suffer fingerprint smudges. Build quality is solid – sturdy and with a decent hinge.

Keyboard is a decent size (even for a big-hander like myself). Keys feel a little bouncy, so time will tell how those will last. The Ctrl and Fn keys seem the wrong way round – Ctrl should be in the corner so it’s the easier of the two to hit. As it is, I keep bungling copy and paste. There’s no external volume or wi-fi switches, which I would have preferred.

Trackpad is annoying. Left and right mouse buttons are shared on a single bar, which is too firm. When clicking, it’s easy to hit the bottom of the trackpad by accident. This is especially noticable when left-click dragging- The mouse shoots the wrong way across the desktop when your thumb oversteps the mark. Having said that, the trackpad motion area is accurate and responsive.

Ports down the left and right-hand side include 3 USB, LAN, Card reader (untested, but apparently SD,MMC,MS, MS Pro.), microphone, headphones and external monitor.

Performance

Processor (Intel Atom 1.66GHz) has been perfectly adequate for the tasks I’ve thrown at it- compiling some code in FlashDevelop, running demanding Flash, viewing the web (with Chrome), running XAMPP, TweetDeck, virus checker, Spotify, iTunes.

The machine is advertised with ‘Turbo Battery’ mode. When not attached to main power, it’s an easy switch (Fn + F10) to drop processor speed to 1.0GHz and extend the battery life.

OS – It came preloaded with Windows XP SP3. I’ve been impressed how quickly this boots up and shuts down- perhaps I’m just used to my overloaded main machine wheezing and coughing?

HDD is respectable, advertised as 160GB and partitioned into two drives: C (Windows + ~25GB free) and D (~106GB free).

Webcam isn’t great, and seems to capture very darkly.

Speakers - Similarly, are weak- but, the headphone jack works fine, so a pair of headphones makes the laptop a good travel mate.

Battery life is good. With unscientific experience, this 6 cell model seems to tally about 4 hours for regular use, with perhaps another hour added in ‘Turbo Battery’ mode.

Wireless – 802.11 built-in. Having fought shaky wi-fi connections on a range of computers / set-ups, I was pleased that this just seems to work flawlessly.

Screen is clear, and can, at the expense of battery-life, be ramped up to decent brightness. It’s 10″, and runs at a resolution of 1024×600. I find this very pokey, my main laptop has a super-sharp 1920×1200 screen squeezed into 17″, but I suppose that’s par-for-course for a netbook. Certainly, TweetDeck and FlashDevelop feel very restricted. There doesn’t seem to be scope to reduce the size of the default system font any further. I tried plugging in an external monitor, which successfully ran at 1920×1080 resolution as an extended desktop- I was pretty impressed by that!

Extras

Carry wallet – The netbook fits snugly into this, though this is only really suitable for machine and a couple of CDs or flat, A5 documentation- there’s no space for the powerbrick or a mouse, so its of limited use when travelling.

Games – It came preloaded with some games from MSi. A couple of these (a platform game and shoot’em’up, using webcam head-tracking for movement) hit the recycle bin immediately. I thought the same would be true of *wince* ‘Chicken Invaders 3‘, but that actually has a decent amount of character. I’ve yet to test ‘Island Wars’, ‘Loco’ or ‘Smiley Ville’.

Overall

So far, very satisfied.

My main beef is with the trackpad. I’m hoping I’ll get used to, or soften the buttons over time.

More Information

Amazon: Tech listing

[Some pontification, as a mental warm-up to being surrounded by some seriously deep thinkers this week]

There are a couple of episodes in my life that blew my mind- figuratively, and perhaps even literally. Core to these have been an established, self-built mental construction about a person or situation that has been forced to collapse very quickly. These have predominantly centred around broken trust.

It’s an intrinsic human trait to rationalise in order to understand- to fit our impressions of the world into a coherent schema; with discrete, logical steps bridging any complexity. We may well create fiction along the way to cope with any cognitive dissonance within our world view.

Very occasionally, rationalisation isn’t possible- particularly where a situation has a strong emotional component. The conscious mind rapidly bounces between aspects, without being able to resolve any of them.

I’ve recognised quirks in my own cognitive behaviour, which have been triggered by incoherence. Some of these attempt to rectify, others are simply a side-effect. These have included:

  • Invention – a willingness to accept facts that are clearly untrue
  • Appeal – entertaining a divine, or out-worldly cause (I have never been religious)
  • Obsession – an inability to mentally focus on anything but the incoherence
  • Lockdown – an inability to mentally focus on anything at all, including the incoherence

The practical truth is that ‘some things just don’t make sense’ – this is a naturally difficult, but powerful tool, to adopt.

Most of us subscribe to a fundamental model of the physical world, where causes have direct, observable, and traceable effects. This is extremely useful and very empowering (pretty much essential for our daily operation, actually) – and I think we’d like to believe that we can apply this sort of computation elsewhere. But why is it necessarily true that all human actions have an understandable trigger, and all causes have a logical effect on people’s emotions?

Some primal emotions can be be rationalised as basic stimulus-response affairs (happiness, pain response). Other emotions may require a little more explanation (fear, awe). Can some be irrational enough, or too complex for us to logically work through?

Alongside the obvious – love (thanks, Spock!), perhaps we can include duty, respect…?

When the alternative is mental flip-flopping, and a first-class ticket on the train to madness, this is the most worthy mantra:

Some things just don’t make sense!

One of the flagship features of Adobe’s CS5 Suite, direct compilation to iPhone app code, has been rather spectacularly undermined by Apple a few days before release (see Phil Lindsay’s well-written account for the details, and an Adobe technologist’s response to the news).

On the one hand, it’s difficult to believe that Apple would do this with as spiteful an attitude as has been suggested. On the other, I just can’t see what they’d gain from this for all that they would hurt.

One long-held conspiratorial belief for why Flash doesn’t exist on iPhone/iPad is that the richness of media functionality and ease of development/distribution would pose a threat to the iTunes foodchain for native, paid apps.

I don’t like it, but I could at least the commercial justification is clear.

Could this have similar roots?

Maybe as a security measure to guard against ‘non-conformist’ code structures entering iTunes.

Does Apple feel that 3rd party compiled code would be harder to police for policy violations at submission stage?

Does Apple think that a proliferation of development tools would leave them having to mop up developer support for other environments?

All possible, though it would be professional manners to work with a company as respected as Adobe to address these issues in partnership.

One of the most interesting, and more powerful moves Adobe ever made was to open source the Flash compiler / FLEX SDK. There are now great 3rd party tools (such as FlashDevelop) for developers to use if they see fit. Although this might appear to steal from their own revenue stream, the net result is that more applications appear for the Flash platform and Adobe still get to lead the field with their premium software.

Sadly, it seems Apple are doing the complete opposite.

Perhaps an official clarification will emerge from them shortly.

This fantastic video is currently doing the rounds, “PIXELS”:

It reminded me very much of Melon Dezign’s PC demo, “I Feel Like a Computer”:

See also 8-bit trip: