December 4th, 2013
Fascinating and more than a bit clever, if you’ll excuse the pun.
November 5th, 2013
The Milky Way panorama by ESO/S. Brunier (The Milky Way panorama) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
If you’re like me, which you’re probably not, then you’ll enjoy thinking about some of the ridiculously big numbers that crop up in science and particularly in relation to space, which is almost definitely the biggest thing there is.
Thanks to Kepler the estimate of the number of habitable or ‘Earth-like’ planets in the Milky Way has just been revised up to two billion. While this is unarguably a lot it’s worth remembering that our galaxy has a diameter of 31 kiloparsecs or 100,000 light years. Given that light travels 299,792 kilometers every second that is an exceptionally big thing.
Think about how big the galaxy is for a moment, and then recall that the visible universe has an estimated diameter of 93 billion light years and contains at least 100 billion such galaxies…
Someone once said to me that they’re ‘not really that interested in space’, which to me equates to saying that you’re not very interested in practically all of everything. Sure, there’s plenty of engaging stuff going on down here at our microscopic level, but how could you not want to look up once in a while?
October 27th, 2013
I’m writing this in the notes app on my phone because I’ve got no signal so cannot log into my blog, or download and set up the WordPress app (which itself wouldn’t be able to connect to my blog anyway, and I can’t remember whether it works offline). Actually, worse than having no signal, I’ve got a patchy 2 bars and a GPRS connection that occasionally steps up to Edge but then drops out completely and the process starts over again. The tease.
I’m at my in-laws’ house and they don’t “have the Internet” here, and actually don’t particularly want it either. Oddly there are no neighbours’ WiFi networks in range; I just tried in the hope of finding a BT Openzone (or Fon) I could latch onto. Nope. Not even any private ones. A luddite neighbourhood?
I remember (of course) not having the Internet. Other than games, in those days PCs were more or less devoid of distractions. The 1996 equivalent of scrolling through Vines for 10 minutes was playing a game of Minesweeper on the big setting.
I remember my dad having Compuserve, and it seeming a bit boring. Then, later, I remember picking up a Freeserve disc from Dixons in Stockport and being fairly excited about getting on the World Wide Web – but not being exactly sure what the web was or whether I’d be that into it. I think I assumed it’d be a novelty for a while – I liked the idea of email – but had no idea quite how big a deal it would turn out to be. “Quite”, you might say.
By 1997 I had made my own website complete, of course, with a visible hit counter and a Java plugin ripple effect. The future.
At university in 1998 we had an internet connection at our student house in Leeds but only on one of our PCs at a time, depending on which room we ran the phone extension and modem to. “Are you going to be long on the Web? Can you give me a shout when you’re finished so I can use the phone?”
We played 2-player Warcraft II and Starcraft between the bedrooms on floors 2 and 3 by way of daisy-chaining parallel printer cables (remember LPT1?) and putting a Laplink cable on one end to reverse the gender and pin-out. I always lost.
And Unreal Tournament through a 56k ‘v90’ was unseen assailant frag hell. Though it’s impressive that it was playable at all.
None of this was that long ago. It’s remarkable how quickly we’ve come to expect connectivity to the Internet, wirelessly everywhere, such that now (trips into the wilderness aside) being offline is the exception rather than the norm.
The Internet has become a kind of magical Higgs-Field-like property that pervades the very air we breathe… Until we lose signal and the spell is broken.
“Oh for God’s sake, why won’t it just load?!”
So, keeping in mind that famous Louis C.K. clip, I won’t complain. That such a thing as a wireless Internet connection exists at all is little short of a miracle (well that and the culmination of decades of work by scientists, mathematicians and engineers).
Instead I’ll write this offline on my phone to kill some time until I’m tired enough to fall asleep. Which is, conveniently, now.
September 30th, 2013
Impressive projection mapping onto moving surfaces controlled by robot arms. Go full screen / 1080p etc.
August 28th, 2013
The Science Museum has produced this flythrough video from a 3D laser scan of the Shipping Galleries, which has closed in order to be replaced with a new exhibit.
Worth viewing at 1080p
July 30th, 2013
If you work in, around and underneath websites for a living it’s likely (and indeed desirable) that you’ll become acclimatised to using a lot of technical terminology and acronyms. But it’s easy to lose touch with how much of that people outside the industry actually understand.
Jargon has its place but I’ll actively try to avoid using any terms that I think might be lost on my audience in any given situation. I’ve always hated it when ‘techies’ appear to be trying to impress people by blinding them with science, and I never want to be that guy. So when talking to clients I often find myself treading that fine line between confusing and patronising them, constantly tweaking the tech-level to ensure that they’re still with me.
This of course means I have to make some assumptions: “They’ll probably know what X is, but I’d better briefly explain Y”. But occasionally I’m way off, as happened the other day.
I recently made a site for a work acquaintance of my wife – just a small job for a local business. I knew it was likely that this client would be near at the non-technical end of the spectrum but I wasn’t prepared for one phone conversation in particular, and it took me a while to figure out what they were doing wrong.
The site has a very simple and stripped back
CMS content management system that allows them to add, edit or remove products, and I’d given them printed instructions for getting into the system, which went along the lines of:
- Sign in by going to: http://www.site.com/admin-area
- Enter your username: XXXXXX
- Enter your password: YYYYYY (case sensitive)
- Click the ‘Enter’ button
And I’d done a face-to-face demo.
A week after handing over the instructions I received a message asking me to call urgently because they couldn’t get into the admin system. Digging for a more specifics I asked them what browser they were using, though judging from the ‘Umm…’ response I may as well have asked them what their subnet mask was.
OK, no problem. I think I recall they have IE9 on their laptop. That should be fine.
And then they said “The admin page isn’t showing up, nor is the contact page actually”. That was weird. I fired up a Windows / IE9 image in VirtualBox and loaded up the site. Sure enough, ‘Contact us’ was there on the menu and it linked correctly to the ‘Contact us’ page (of course there wasn’t supposed to be a public link the admin area but hey we’d get to that).
“Really? You mean you can’t see the contact page at all?”
“No, it’s only showing home and the about us page.”
Then the penny dropped – they were going to a search engine instead of typing the address in. They were talking about which pages were showing up in the search results.
I explained that they needed to type in the link exactly as I had printed it into the address bar, but the term ‘Address bar’ was apparently unfamiliar technical jargon to them.
Finally, after advising that they include “…the ‘http’ bit. Yes, with the colon, and yes the two slashes as well”, we got there and they were away.
Now I’m a big fan of the unified search and address bar that’s been adopted across all the major desktop browsers. But thinking about it, it appeared first in Chrome and what Google wants is obviously more traffic to Google.com. The unified search bar surely delivers this. Increasingly people get to places via search even if they already know the URL because Google is so fast that it’s still quicker than typing in the full address. That’s fine, I do it myself.
But this has also dumbed down the user experience to the point that that I fear the notion of a website’s address – for some – may never register on their jargon chart. “You just go to Google”.
It worries me that there are people who frequently use the web yet do not know what a URL is. And that there’s a real confusion around what Google (et al) actually is and what it does. Near enough all of us use it so we really ought to know – at least at some basic level – what is going on.
And – it wasn’t the point of the post but as a side-note – ignorance affects the likelihood of certain Government schemes getting the green light. A recent Daily Mail front page (which must have been in the print edition-only as I can’t find it online) declared in intentionally loose language words to the effect of ‘Google refuses to remove child porn from the internet’. I believe that a not insignificant amount of people actually think that because you go to Google and then it shows you a list of websites, when you click on one of the results the website comes back to you in some way from or through Google. This failure to grasp even the basics is worrying and dangerous given what a powerful political and social tool the web has become.
July 3rd, 2013
This is useful in a responsive layout because a medium-sized image will look sharp if scaled down (e.g. high res mobile display) but won’t look so great when scaled up (e.g. Retina Display Macbook Pro). In my case I wanted to swap a large header image only if the window size was over 1023 (CSS) pixels wide and it was a ‘Retina’ display.
I thought I’d share it in the hope that it saves someone else the hour it took me to write it.
Here on GitHub: https://github.com/aderowbotham/resina.js
It’s called ‘resina.js‘ because there’s already a retina.js, which works differently.