May 2011 in the Life of Ben (Blog)

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

Busaba Ostrich (24th May 2011)

This evening, after some consideration, I ordered the Garlic pepper ostrich at the Busaba on Store Street, with a side of Phad Phak. It was all delicious! Good staff as ever. Quite noisy, was difficult to hear Fiona at times. But that’s a good atmosphere for a night out.

UK Government Website Experiment (24th May 2011)

In response to I like the new government look on Accessify Forum. The HTML, aesthetics and ‘direction’ of this new government website prototype is interesting. But the best of us already know the direction (it’s our day job) and many government websites started doing it years ago.

Background of the Project

With a short, agile, project like (we’ve had just over 10 weeks build-time with the full team in place) it’s all about setting direction, sketching out the product – even if all the bits don’t get coloured in – and about trying to make the right compromises.

Accessibility on the Alpha website’s blog.

Provides some useful context. A much more detailed “about the site” page provides many more interesting insights.

Information Architecture

It’s very web-friendly. How it will scale to encompass the whole of UK Government (even just the central bits) will remain to be seen.

The prototype will also test a new information architecture (IA) and a new open source-powered technology platform. It assumes people:

Mirroring the new information architecture is a single government brand to replace the myriad of different department and agency logos. The aim is to keep things as simple as possible.

About the Prototype.

In contrast, basically ends up being a late-90’s portal site, with local pockets of navigation rather than a top-down IA. The difference is, these days you arrive directly at a relevant deep pages when searching from major a search engine. So that local navigation is all you usually need.

HTML Quibbles

Each person on the Government Ministors page page has this markup:

<p class="minister-image"><a href="/government/ministers/parliamentary-under-secretary-of-state-legal-aid-a/">
<img src="" title="Jonathan Djanogly " alt="Jonathan Djanogly " width="135" height="135" />
<p class="minister-name">
<small>Jonathan Djanogly </small>
<a href="/government/ministers/parliamentary-under-secretary-of-state-legal-aid-a/">Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Courts Service and Legal Aid</a>

Oh dear. In fact, the Document Outline for most pages is kinda messed up due to how they are (and aren't) using heading elements.

All the lists are marked up as lists. Really, all of them. Nice to see that.

Javascript Required (in minor places)

Here’s a bit which requires Javascript and has no fallback:

<p id="location-unset-message">
<span class="pin"><img title="Location icon (not set)" alt="Location not set" src=""></span>
              Location not set. <a href="#" class="change-location">Set location</a> (<a href="#" class="explain-location">why?</a>)


The text size is enormous! I’m no designer but I have to side with Daz and say the aesthetics, even at the most basic level, could be much better. To me, the major areas of the page looks like a patchwork quilt. Good that they look separate but I can’t see an overall theme or style to them.

It is using CSS3 Web Fonts for all the text. Including the hand-written post-it notes about it being an experimental prototype.

Certain bits of link text will be meaningless if read out of context, or even if skim-reading. Clearest example is in the footer:

This site uses cookies. We have published a list and further information.

Hmm, that link text doesn’t include the word “cookies”. :|


Although they are using a memory cache system, they don’t have specific HTTP caching. So moving around the site seems to re-load certain images and landing pages every time.

Age: 81
Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8
Date: Mon, 30 May 2011 18:22:09 GMT
Server: Apache
Status: 200 OK
Vary: Cookie
Via: 1.1 varnish
X-Varnish: 1438926293 1438925953
X-XSS-Protection: 0
Content-Length: 74838
Connection: keep-alive

200 OK

Most performance loss is due to network effects. That area needs to be optimised.

Competitors & Success

Some years ago I helped with the Department for Transport website and it’s still using the same system. Successfully. I just went back there and it remains miles ahead of the mainstream. Years after it was built.

New doesn’t mean better. We often forget that in IT. For example, remember the Clacksweb site we all sang the praises of around “March 2005”? Look at it now…and then View Source. Oh dear. Too often a new website is not as good as the one it replaced.

Good websites are the result of research, expertise, aesthetics and technical skill working together for the benefit of users. That way of doing things has been around for decades.

This new website one is currently quite far from being an exemplar of best practice in some respects, imho. Then again, it does remind everyone else that website can be done well, better than many others.

My First Trackball (9th May 2011)

Today I started using this particular form of static mouse since my broken wrist makes it hard to use a regular mouse. It certainly spares my wrist from all movement but it’s so difficult to move the pointer quickly or accurately. My fingers often started twitching because they aren’t used to operating like this.

After some web searches it seems to take about a week to get used to them. A week later, I agree with that. One trick I found was using one finger as a brake, between the case and the wheel, while another actually moves the ball. This ensures accuracy by slowing the motion to avoid overshoots and mis-clicks during slight twitches.

Still a lot slower and less accurate than a normal mouse. But my joints are feeling far less stressed after a long day of mousing. They certainly solve that part of the problem.

May Day (Not ‘Mayday’) (2nd May 2011)

Fiona and I stayed at my family’s home over the long weekend. Arrived at Fleet near 10am on Friday and departed near 8:30pm the following Monday. Watched the Royal Wedding together. My wrist is still quite broken but we managed several hours of cycling on Saturday. Fiona drove us to The New Forest on Sunday for a bit more.


Typed up directly from the notes I made after we got back:

  1. Watched wedding.
  2. Ate jacket potatos.
  3. Cycled to Basingborne park.
  4. Chain came off one of the bicycles. Was difficult to re-fit but we got it.
  5. Played some frisbee.
  6. Heard music for a while.
  7. Decided to find where it came from; there was a party out past Linkway.
  8. Rode to Velmead Common.
  9. Followed some different routes around the open prehistoric-looking heath.
  10. Backtracked to The Forester’s carpark.
  11. Took gravel tracks to airfield, which we looked out over for some time.
  12. It’s a little like the high plateau in The Simpsons which looks out over Springfield.
  13. Chain came off a bicycle again. Re-fitting it was easier this time.
  14. Cycled around the sand.
  15. Rode along the surprisingly large area which was cleared for The World is not Enough, where they have a hovercraft chase in North Korea.
  16. Sprinted down a loose gulley and up a hillock to watch a plane land.
  17. Rode back past Pyestock.
  18. Rode the stream which drains into Fleet Pond.
  19. Detoured through a meadow on our way to the pond.
  20. Had an idyllic laze around on the grass for a while.
  21. Continued to the picnic benches at the viewport.
  22. Wrote some of these notes while seated.
  23. Saw lots of swans as we stopped at several jetis, walking right to the end of each one.
  24. Rode back on the roads to Fleet Wharf, where we rejoined the Basingstoke Canal.
  25. Did a cooldown lap around Wickham Close before storing the bicycles.
  26. It was now about 7:15pm!
  27. Guinea Pigs were all fine.
  28. Ate some fish for dinner, which I cooked.
  29. Found a woodland fruits strudel in the freezer so we had half of that for pudding.
  30. Watched some Arrested Development from DVD.
  31. Made a bed for Fiona and turned in for the night.

Plaster Cast (5th May 2011)

Had my follow-up wrist X-ray this morning for the injury I got whilst playing football. Was waiting for about half an hour on a few occassions. Diagnosis is that I have a broken radius bone in my right wrist. So they gave me a fibre-glass cast for the next 3 weeks.

It’s quite hard to use a mouse, so work have given me a trackball. First time I’ve used one so will see how it goes.