February 2009 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

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WaSP IA (27th February 2009)

(In reply to Translations […] on the Web Standards Project’s blog.)

URLs

The blog entry URL ends with translations-articles while the translations page ends with articles-translations. Articles, reviews, tutorials and blog entries are present on that page, so the articles portion is inaccurate.

Since the domain is webstandards.org, the web-standards portion is repetitive.

Therefore, I suggest http://webstandards.org/translations.

Browsing Translations

There is an e-mail link for the ILG on the translation page but no link to the ILG’s web page.

When I visited the Action area I couldn't find the link because the list looks like content rather than navigation. (Try a quick squint test on it.) I suggest using <dl> so that the name of each group appears on the left-hand side of a line by itself, which the corresponding description below. (F-shaped reading pattern.)

The ILG page starts with a list of links to the things they do, in which it was easy to find an existing Translations area. From there I found the list of Japanese translations. But the translation for Just Ask: integrating accessibility throughout design mentioned by the new page does not feature in this category.

That list is part of the /buzz/ area rather than part of the /action/ilg/ area, which I find confusing. I was expecting /action/ilg/translations/ja/ or similar.

Ideas

After this voyage through the information architecture of WaSP, I find it difficult to construct a mental model of how the translations are organised. I’m not sure what to suggest.

Perhaps /translations should redirect to the ILG Translations page. Then all translations approved by WaSP ILG would be linked to in one place, under the corresponding language.

Cycling with Suspension (27th February 2009)

Zoe offered to sell me her bicycle so I took it for a test ride.

Suspension

First thing I notice is that bicycle suspension definitely works. Roads which usually rattle me to pieces were merely bumpy. Bumpy roads are merely undulating.

What takes some getting used to is balancing on a machine which is flexing and shifting beneath you. In retrospec, it was much like riding a horse.

The balance problems were compounded by the saddle being far too low, the handlebars being a bit too high and the front wheel being warped. Hit a bump while signalling with one arm at the wrong part of my pedalling and very nearly fell off! Simply slowing to a stop had me wobbling over to the kerb like a total noob, too.

Replacing the saddle post with my custom one helped a lot. I could now balance and signal since more weight was being spread to my hands.

Transmission

Large wheels in the derailleur were present in Warren’s racing bike and that seemed like a good idea. This machine had them as well. As these are the smallest wheels in the transmission they spin the most. Making them bigger reduces their rate of spin, this reduces the friction.

Remote Control Cars (22nd February 2009)

Dad drove me to meet a nearby neighbour: an elderly dad and his son. The dad had bought a pair of remote control cars for his son but they needed more space to try them out. The facility where my dad works has several car parks, so that’s where he was driving us.

We chatted about this and that on the way. The guards opened the gate for us without and hassle since my dad is very well-known there.

Selecting a Location

Whilst driving to the first car park, I spotted a smooth and long stretch of tarmac outside one of the buildings. “How about there?” I asked. We cruised into it and had a look. I suggested we continue to check the others, then we could choose the best one.

The others had pine needs, leaves and twigs. The cars are rugged but letting them run on a smooth surface would be easier to control and we’d get higher speeds.

Start Your Engines!

We unloaded the cars and equipment. The electric just needed the battery plugged in and the controls trimmed. Then it was ready to go, so the son started getting used to how it drove.

The dad now set up the workmate ready to start the other car, which used a nitro mix. Apparently they usually hold the car on a brick then pull the start cord until it fires up but the brick had been forgotten. My dad and I found a concrete cuboid which was just narrow enough for the car to straddle it.

This was the first time I’d seen a model internal combustion engine up close and I was surpised how simple it was. Being air-cooled, self-lubricating and having an unpressured fuel system meant all the pumps, pipes and usual gubbins of a full-sized car engine were absent. It was basically a big cylinder, a plastic fuel tank and the transmission.

The dad primed the fuel system and let the son play with the electric car.

The Son Drives Electric

He got to grips with it fast, starting out at low speed to understand the range of turns which would fit in the available space.

The sun was shining but the wind was rather chilly cold. One of the first fine days of the year, though.

After several minutes he was easily at full throttle and reaching the top speed in straight lines.

My 1st Drive

The son had given me the controller to try driving. I cautiously accepted it and walked some way off, to a spot where various stains on the tarmac formed a complex pattern.

The first thing I noticed is the car pulled away in a curve to the left. We later realised the steering trim was a couple of notches out to the left. After correcting this it ran straight and true.

The turning circle was pretty narrow and the steering was pretty fast. The controller used a wheel and the servos only turned the steering as far as the wheel turned. This seems pretty standard; I remember a friend from secondary school had a similar system for the rudder of a boat. It works very well.

It had four wheel drive and front wheel steering (4×4×2). Even with unequal-length independent wishbones with coil-over-damper suspension all round, it had a fair amount of understeer. Still, the roadholding and direction changes were impressive. As was the acceleration…this thing really shifted!

After several minutes I started clipping the apex of turns and balancing the steering between high turn rates and scrubbing off speed. I set out an imaginary course by joining up distant dots on the tarmac.

I can see how this becomes a hobby. But as I told my dad afterwards, going to an RC club where a bunch of sad old men with their spouseless sons mess about with these toys seemed unproductive. When I go out I like to do interesting things with people. (And to people, for that matter!)

Petrol Pwnage

Once the fueled car had been started, the dad came over and asked I stop using the electric one. A collision would have been pretty lame, especially with both vehicles costing about £200!

To start with, the son didn’t understand how to steer because it used a stick rather than a wheel. (Although middle-aged, his mental age is lower due to problems at birth. He has the shyness and quietness of a kid, which is actualy quite sweet.)

After this was explained out, he began driving little circuits in the cautious way I had done with the electic car. He got the hang of it quickly and was soon blipping the throttle to check the acceleration.

Wow. You can tell it was running a nitrous blend! It literally screamed at the slightest hint of throttle, darting off like a missle. I can well believe the manufacturer’s claims of 40mph! Far too scary for me, especially as it wasn’t mine.

It was so fast that there was no way to turn 180° in the carpark without slowing down a lot first. Still, the car park was plenty long enough to experiment with the top speed down its length.

After quite some time, the fuel ran out. So they returned the car to the workmate, took the body off and let it cool for a while.

My 2nd Drive

The electric car still had some battery life, so they gave it to me for a bit. After a couple of minutes the dad came over and observed the speed was down. I hadn’t really noticed since it happens gradually. But, sure enough, it prompty slowed to a crawl.

It had been using their best rechargable battery, so they switched it over to the cheaper one. Apparently the good one was was the 2nd-best available and this was the 4th. The difference in price was 30 versus about 8.

Once fitted, there was some confusion since the car went backwards when using throttle. Eventually I figured out the throttle trim had been nudged while holding the controller, so the car was actually trying to reverse until the throttle was squeezed a long way down. Once re-trimmed it was all fine, as evidenced by it being silent when the throttle was in the neutral position.

Long Road

By this time the nitro car was ready to be used again so I went over to observe it being started. My dad also showed up. The car proved very difficult to restart but, eventually, they got it going.

As before, the dad didn’t want both cars running in the same area. So I offered to use the access road which ran alongside the carpark. He agreed and I started by walking its length, kicking the few stones and twigs into the gutters.

After a few runs up and down the road, I felt confident enough to run at full speed. It’s surpising how delicate one must be with the steering to avoid getting into a left-right slalom. So much easier in video games, where the best steering angle is partly worked out for you!

After several high-speed runs I started doing deliberate lane changes between alternate road markings. Being accurate and controlled was difficult but the road was plenty wide enough while I learned.

Sooner than I expected, the speed dramatically reduced. So I walked back to a junction and did some more precision work at lower speeds until the main motor would no longer turn.

The steering servo continued to function and I noticed the change in steering angle is exaggerated as the control wheel moves closer to its limits. This permits fine control for slight steering at high speed and fast direction changes at low speed. Very clever bit of kit!

Nitro Finale

Eventually the nitro car started and the son immediately picked up from where he stopped last time.

The dad had brought a digicam to film the events but his eyesight wasn’t quite up to the job. So, flattered by his invitation to let me film, I had a go. The chilly wind made my camerawork very shaky at the start but it gradually smoothed out.

I spent a long time trying to track the vehicle. This is much harder than you’d think! It’s given me a newfound appreciation for the professionalism of the motorsports camera operators on Eurosport.

I also filmed the son operating the vehicle, getting both the vehicle and the son in a few wide shots.

After shooting 3 scenes a couple of minutes long, I turned it off and claimed “That’s a wrap!”

The fuel in the car lasted several more minutes, so the dads and I chatted.

Packing Up

After everything was loaded back into dad’s truck, we headed back to our neck of the woods. This was the first social thing I’d done all year and it was cool to hang around with our neighbours.

Hopefully the video isn’t too wobbly!

One Web Works Fine (18th February 2009)

Using CSS lets authors tailor website design for each medium:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="screen,projection" href="/style.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="handheld" href="/handheld.css">
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="print" href="/print.css">

In each stylesheet:

style.css
Full graphics with Sliding Doors and % widths. (You aren’t still using px, are you?)
handheld.css
No decorative graphics and only the most important parts displayed. Linearised layout with tight typography. Navigation bars which wrap to new lines instead of navigation lists.
print.css
Only the main content with key images presented using the typographic conventions of printed publications.

Browsers select the design which best suits them. A graphical browser showing a Print Preview would apply print.css. A “printer-friendly version” 5 years ago is as unnecessary as a “mobile-friendly version” today.

Better Websites are Better

Bruce Lawson makes the point that clear design which prioritise the tasks users want to accomplish work best for everyone. Make one excellent website and everyone wins.

Or, as my old man says: “Do it once, do it right.”

Adaptable Content for Mobiles

Let mobile devices choose whether they are media="screen" or media="handheld". As discussed on #whatwg at the start of this year.

At best, Media Queries will become the new UA string where everything pretends to be everything so it gets everything. Besides which, designing for specific px widths is a mistake from the bad old days.

Letting UAs choose what’s best for them and adapt it as necessary is the essence of device independence. That’s what underpins One Web, causing Mobile Web and Web Accessibility to converge on the same best practices.

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

Stupid mobiles made in 2004 are like the stupid browsers of last century. But sensible mobile browsers existed way before 2004 and did so on what Nielson calls feature phones. Shipping better browsers on feature phones means a better mobile web.

There were a handful of little-used yet very capable, standards-compliant browsers for the desktop last century. This led to Firefox and a renewed cross-pollenation between browsers. These innovations have let desktop users “take back the web”.

As Henny Swan points out, what worked for the desktop can work for the mobile.

For example, flat rate Internet access was rare on the desktop last century. It’s now the norm and users demand it. Similarly, flat rate Internet access for mobiles has now been commonplace for a year or two in the UK.

Sensible mobiles solve the mobile web. The handsets need not be turbo-charged if the network do clever things. In the meantime, writing a handheld stylesheet is easier and more sustainable than a parallel website.

What I Do (6th February 2008)

At parties and family events I’m sometimes asked what I do. Talking about tags and selectors usually prompts a polite smile, followed by a hasty exit.

The description must use familiar terms that summarise the main things.

Job Description

I make websites for sDesign1, a website design company in Liverpool.

Job Titles

Website Designer
For non-techies and new acquaintances to have any idea what I do.
Web Developer
Anyone in the industry should have some idea what this is.
I say “web” because I’ve helped develop web standards, not just websites.
Senior Front-end Developer
My actual job title at sDesign1.

“What Does That Mean?”

I bridge the gap between how a website looks and how it works.

  1. A website has a few different types of page.
  2. A designer makes a picture of how each type of page should look.
  3. I turn each picture into a single web page, called a template.
  4. A programmer integrates each template with the website’s database. That makes the actual pages.

How I got into Websites Design

  1. Made my first website in 1998 with a friend from school.
  2. Helped other friends make websites for themselves over the next few years.
  3. In 2005 I turned professional, working freelance.
  4. Asked the secondary school I went to, Calthorpe Park School, if they’d like help with their website. They did and this is ongoing.
  5. In 2006 I started working for sDesign1.
  6. In 2007 Calthorpe’s website won an award from Hampshire County Council.

Specialities?

I make websites:

Snowy Cycle Ride (3rd February 2009)

During yesterday’s blizzard I considered riding out into the country and photographing some snowscapes. Today I bit the bullet and did it.

Pictures

Each one is said to speak a thousand words, so they come first:

These were cropped and resized using Fireworks, applying different strategies for the settings. JPEG is really good for doing photos…who knew? (I’m still a novice, at best.)

Apparel

Combat trousers were the inner layer, tucked into inner socks. This was a bit of a squeeze but turned out to ensure a perfectly comfortable temperature, both when stationary and when cycling. When stationary I often needed my coat open. Whilst cycling, closed was usually best.

Route

Same direction and start as earlier this year. Except I came back after reaching the humpback bridge.

Blizzard! (2nd February 2009)

Much like the April Blizzard last year but this time, it stayed cold all day. It’s now 5:30pm and the snow has only worn away where people have been walking, riding and driving.

It was about midday when I took these pictures. For comparison, also check Sunshine and Guinea Pigs from 4pm during April 2008.

Spoke to a couple of kids who were playing in the snow. They were building a fort and generally shifting snow around with shovels and buckets. Like a scaled-up and cooled-down version of building sandcastles at the beach.

All the schools in Fleet were closed. Apparently quite a few people stayed home, too.

No Rest for the Webmaster!

After some negotiation, I managed to remove the splash page a member of staff had put on Calthorpe Park School. Instead, we made it into a normal feature for the homepage.

Had to comment out all other features from the main content. I wanted to keep them. My contention was that F-shaped reading pattern means a normal feature at the top of main content will be noticed by everyone. But the staff member insisted.

At least it’s not a splash page any more. Indeed, now it’s consistent with other pages, has full navigation and the imminent Parent Forum Group arrangements are there.