Weeknote 49/2023: Back to work

So I’m having another go at writing weeknotes. I think it might even be a mindful exercise and good for me…

I was going to make this “Weeknote 2696” – because that’s the number of weeks I’ve been on this earth (plus 3 days), so it’s not a bad number to use. Then I looked back and realised I did manage a reasonable number of weeknumber/year posts a while back, so that’s the format. I’ll write these on a Friday though, so weekend thoughts will spill over to the next week…

This week’s discoveries/events included:

  • Returning to work after 10 days off, during which I seemed to have forgotten everything!
  • Reinforcing the view that a “strategic discussion about business challenges” with the wrong audience will still end in a conversation about technology. That was even after I’d been clear in the pre-meeting communications, calendar invite, and agenda. Now, I’ll engage the technical team that should have been involved the first time around…
  • Catching up for an overdue virtual coffee with Matt Ballantine (he of the #100coffees experiment), a long time acquaintance whom I now count as a friend.
  • Chatting with Mark Reynolds from Hable about organisational change. That seemed particularly appropriate after British Cycling had emailed me about changes to their coaching framework. It was clearly important to their Learning and Development team but just noise to me, with no clear call to action.
  • Experience of failed digital transformation at Costco, where it appears you can renew your membership online, but it might take 24 hours for the processes in the warehouse to catch up. I made some progress by deliberately crashing and reloading the app. But even then it needed a human to enable my digital membership card. Repeat after me: it’s no good implementing new tech, unless you sort out the business process too!
  • Milton Keynes Geek Night number 46 – at a fabulous new venue (South Central Institute of Technology).
  • Starting to learn about amateur radio, after Christian Payne (Documentally) gifted me a Quansheng UV-K5(8) at Milton Keynes Geek Night. I promised that I would take my foundation exam to get a licence.
  • Taking up the floor in my loft, to expose the heating pipes, to prove to the heating engineers that the pipes are fine and there’s something else in the system that needs to be fixed…
  • Wrapping up the week with a visit to my new favourite local pub (The Bell and Bear in Emberton), with my friend James, for a pint of Marc Antony. This beer appears to have been renamed. It was previously the correct spelling for me – Mark Antony!

Some press coverage

Featured image: author’s own

Weeknote 7: Traffic, snow and an awesome party (Week 49, 2017)

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Another week means another weeknote and this one finished on a high because last night was the risual Christmas Party!

risual does Christmas parties rather well and I won’t go into the details here but suffice to say, a good time was had. I knew the weather forecast though and needed to be sober today (Mrs W wasn’t too happy about the idea of driving home in the snow) so I can bask in the delight of not-having-a-hangover.

Anyway, it was a joy to wake up in a Country House hotel this morning and see how the landscape was transformed. I took quite a lot of photos on my iPhone but Dropbox is currently refusing to upload them for me, complaining that one is corrupt (but not telling me which one!). I’ll edit them next week and post them then…

Then I drove home in the snow and ice. England can’t cope when it snows (or indeed with any other extremes of weather: too wet; too sunny; too windy). We do mild-grey really well though.

The week

My week was the usual mix of consulting (paid work), training and pre-sales. I was fortunate to spend a day at Microsoft in Reading on Tuesday, topping up my Microsoft 365 (Office 365, plus Windows 10, plus Enterprise Mobility + Security) knowledge. I’m hoping that, time permitting, some blog posts will come out of that.

I’ve been driving around the UK almost 30 years, and driving for work for most of them. This week drove home to me (excuse the pun) just how overloaded the UK’s road infrastructure is, when it took me more than 5 hours to drive to Reading and back (about 75 miles each way), then around 4.5 hours the next day to drive 190 miles on nothing but motorways and trunk A roads (180 miles of which were dual carriageway). It seems likely that the first place autonomous vehicles can take a hold is on major routes like this and I for one can’t wait. Maybe one day we’ll have segregated autonomous driving lanes on the motorways, where the cars can drive closer together (in constant communication and not constrained by human reaction speeds) and maybe even faster (if the law is changed).

This week also saw the quarterly Milton Keynes Geek Night, which I’m proud to have attended every one of! I’ve made a lot of contacts over the 5½ years it’s been running – some of whom I can now count as friends and this event had one of the best set of talks in a long while including:

  • Simon Collison (@colly) on “The Internet of Natural Things”
  • Laura Sutton (@L_Coull)’s “Non-geek’s guide to the Galaxy”
  • Dr Neil Smith (@neilnjae) showing us “Beatles vs. Rolling Stones: using data science to prove which band is best”!
  • Joe Leech (@MrJoe) wrapping up with “UX, Psychology and the Power of 100”

The next one clashes with my wedding anniversary, and Mrs W has even agreed to come along with me as an honourary geek!

At home

We’re hoping to convert our loft next year and the initial notice has been submitted for planning purposes. It seems that, now that councils are better at sharing information, marketers are scraping it to bombard us with offers of storage, home improvements, etc. Apparently, our neighbours will be getting mailshots from lawyers too… all very irksome…

Around town

I missed this event which was part of Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday celebrations – a floating carnival of decorated boats looks like quite a spectacle on the canal!

It’s really noticeable how many people are now sleeping rough on the streets of Milton Keynes. The Bus Shelter are trying to do something about that – but they need to raise funds to convert a double-decker coach to provide emergency shelter. To quote from their website:

“Homelessness can hit anyone – most of us are just three pay packets away from losing our home. With your help we can provide over 5800 safe, warm nights for people forced to sleep on the streets and help them find a positive future.”

Look out for the bus in the Intu part of the Shopping Centre (Midsummer Place) and please donate, if you can:

At the other end of the scale… I passed a man on the mean streets of MK proudly proclaiming that the best place to get a car parking space is the electric charging bays… it may not be illegal to park a petrol/diesel car in an electric space but it is selfish (especially as there are normal spaces free)…

Other stuff

Barclaycard sent me a new credit card “for security reasons”. It was nice to find that my Apple Wallet updated automatically on my phone and my watch. Sadly the many websites where I had the details stored for recurring payments (Apple iTunes, Microsoft, Amazon, M6 Toll, Transport for London, etc.) didn’t.

That reminds me… I wonder when my Curve card will show up… It seems I’ve been stuck with about 1500 people ahead of me in the queue for weeks now… in fact, the number seems to be going up (but if you use my referral link above, I can move back up the queue…)!

On the topic of referrals, my energy switch to Bulb completed this week. It was painless (though I will have to wait to get my credit from First Utility, my previous provider – who seem more interested in selling broadband to me now than reducing my energy bills…). Unfortunately, neither I nor my friend have received our promised referral credits from Bulb. Enquiries are ongoing…

My son and I needed to force-quit an app on my Amazon Fire TV Stick but weren’t sure how. This blog post helped by pointing us to Menu, Settings, Manage All Installed Applications where Force Stop is one of the options.

Sadly, Amazon and Google’s inability to play together nicely means my Fire TV Stick won’t play YouTube videos from 1 Jan 2018. One is not amused:

I’ve been watching Channel 4’s series about Donald Trump’s rise (An American Dream). I’ll leave the politics aside but it’s fascinating to see how the wealthy can grow to take such a position of power…

I noticed that my Nextbase Dashcam was showing the wrong time (1 hour ahead) and every time I changed it, it reverted after the next power cycle… then I realised there was a timezone setting and it was still on GMT+1 (BST). After changing to GMT, all was good. It seems that it picks up the time from the GPS, so the timezone is the important setting…

I’m torn about the use of the new HEIC image format on my iPhone. On the one hand, I want to store the best quality images I can, on the other, I need them to be readable on all my devices

Whilst I was at MK Geek Night this week, I spotted that War Horse is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre next autumn. I enjoyed the film and I’ve heard good things about the National Theatre production too, so tickets are booked for a family cultural treat:

My phone has decided that, when I get in the car, I’m headed for the local Tesco Express… that’s a little worrying (I wonder how does Siri determine my travel patterns?):

Podcasts

I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of these is the Microsoft Cloud Show. Sometimes, it can be a bit too developer-focused for my tastes but I enjoyed Episode 223, which pretty much encapsulates the conversations I have with customers as an Architect working with the Microsoft cloud!

I also got the chance to catch up with Matt Ballantine this week (one half of the WB-40 Podcast). It’s been a while since Matt and I had a chat but I really enjoyed bouncing around our thoughts on modern collaboration and team working. and team-working. Like Matt, I’m finding myself drawing/writing on screen more (at least when working, using a Surface Pro – my MacBook lacks any sort of touch capability) though it’s also showing how unpracticed I’ve become at writing!

Wrap-up

Anyway, before I get too far into Sunday evening I need to sign-off and check my children haven’t continued building their snow-wall across the neighbours’ drives…

Next week looks like it should feature a lot less travel (at least by road) and a return to cyclocross with my son. I might even be home a few evenings and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog post that’s not one of these weeknotes! I live in hope…

Typography and information (Matthew Standage at #MKGN)

This content is 7 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve often written about Milton Keynes Geek Night on this blog – there was even a time when I used to write up the whole night’s talks when I got home. Now I need my zeds too much and I never seem to get around to the writing part! Even so, I saw Matthew Standage (@mstandage) give a great talk at last week’s MKGN and I thought I really should share some of what he talked about here.

Matthew spoke about on the importance of typography on user experience and his key point was that, far from being just the choice of typeface (font), typography is the primary medium by which we communicate information to our users on the web.

95% of the web is typography (or more accurately written language) and it’s the way we interpret, divide and organise information.

When designing a website, hierarchy is not everything. Instead, consider what’s the most important information to the reader. Its not always the page title.

“Really?”, you might ask – so consider the UK Bank Holidays page at gov.uk. Here the Level 1 heading of “UK bank holidays” is less important than the big green box that tells me when I next get a statutory day off work:

Gov.UK website UK Bank Holidays page

Next, Matthew explained, we need to think about proximity – which objects are placed together, how groups work, the use of white space. For this, read Mark Boulton’s Whitespace article on the A List Apart site (the article has been around for a while but is still valid today). Whitespace can help to identify different types of information: headings; links; authors; image captions; etc.

In general, users won’t read text in a word by word manner – but the typography helps readers to scan the page. Jakob Nielsen describes this in his article about the F-shaped pattern for reading web content.  Though, if that’s true, you won’t have read this far anyway as you’ll have pretty much stopped after the second paragraph…

Matthew’s slides from his talk are on speakerdeck and I’m sure the audio will appear on the MKGN SoundCloud feed in due course:

Thoughts on the use of Sway as a presentation tool

This content is 8 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a short talk on adopting cloud services at Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN). I’ll admit being a little nervous – the talk was supposed to be 5 minutes (and I had more to say than would ever have fitted – I later learned it’s pretty rare for anyone to stick to their allotted time) and I’m not used to speaking to an audience larger than a meeting room-full (a typical MKGN audience in the current venue is around about 100).  Just to make things a little harder for myself, I decided to use Microsoft Sway for my visual aids.

For those who are unfamiliar with Sway, I got excited about it when it first previewed in 2014. Since then it’s shipped and is available as part of Office 365 or as a standalone product. It’s a tool for presenting content from a variety of sources in a visually-appealing style that works cross-platform and cross-form factor.

Even though Sway has an app for Windows 10, some of the content (e.g. embedded tweets) relies on having an Internet connection at the time of presenting.  Wi-Fi at conferences is notoriously bad and 3G/4G at the MKGN venue is not much better (although it did hold up for me on the night). So, with that and the 7Ps in mind I had PowerPoint and PDF fallback plans but I persisted with Sway.

I’m still not sure Sway is a presentation tool though…

You see, as I swiped and clicked my way through, the audience saw everything I saw. I prefer the simplicity of a picture, with my notes on my screen – I talk, the audience listens, the image re-enforces the view. Sway didn’t work for me like that. Indeed, Sway falls into what Matt Ballantine recently described as the latest whizz-bang tool in a post about a request he was given to knock up a few slides of PowerPoint:

“PowerPoint [… is …] rarely used to perform the task it was designed to do […] The latest whizz-bang tool is the answer! Prezi, Sway or whatever it is that the cool kids are using. Actually, though, the answer probably lies as much in new skills that people need to develop to communicate in a Digital era. Questions like:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the message that you are trying to deliver?
  • Where will they be?
  • How will they consume your content?
  • How can you extend the conversation?”

We use Sway at work for weekly updates on what’s been happening in the company – internal communications that used to make use of lengthy HTML emails (I almost never used to read to the end) became more immersive and easier to engage with. And that’s where I think Sway fits – as a tool for communications that are read asynchronously. Not as a tool for presenting a message to an audience in real time.

You can see what you think about the use of Sway as a presentation tool when you take a look at the Sway I used for my MKGN talk.

Speaking at Milton Keynes Geek Night (#MKGN)

This content is 8 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For the last few years, I’ve been heading into Milton Keynes once a quarter (and on a couple of other occasions too) to attend the Milton Keynes Geek Night, organised by Richard Wiggins (@richardwiggins) and David Hughes (@davidhughes). Last time I had the crazy idea that I might speak at a future event. Furthermore, Richard took me up on the offer. Gulp.

So, unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I’ll be doing a little 5 minute talk on 9 June 2016 to represent some of the geeks of Milton Keynes who are neither designers nor developers. I haven’t written the presentation yet, but the synopsis is below:

Would you move all of your IT services to the cloud? Many organisations are moving all, or part of, their IT infrastructure and applications to the cloud. In this talk, I’ll share some of my experiences from helping to first migrate and then transform, enterprise IT services, using a mixture of infrastructure-, platform- and software-as-a-service technologies.

Tickets for MK Geek Night 17 have sold out but you can get on the waiting list (and talks are recorded and posted on Soundcloud). Please be nice to me.

Marketing for small businesses

This content is 8 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’ve blogged about Milton Keynes Geek Night many times over the last 3 and a half years – and it’s still just as good as ever. Last Thursday’s geek night (number 14)  had possibly the most eclectic mix of talks I’ve seen in a while though – with a talk about Life on Mars as well as the usual collection of web design/developer topics. And then there was Chloe Briggs’ 5-minute talk about marketing for freelancers.

Although Chloe (@clever_cloggs) called it marketing for freelancers, I recognise a lot of this being applied in small-medium businesses too. Indeed, it’s only the large enterprises I’ve worked for that don’t seem to “get it”. Even so, Chloe gave what I consider to be some very good advice, so I’m blogging it here!

  • Stand out from the crowd:
    • Use blogging as a tool
    • Know your audience
      • Think about who your existing clients are and what type of clients would you like to work with?
      • Target your content to this audience
  • Look after existing clients:
    • It’s good to keep in touch
      • Send a well-crafted newsletter every month/quarter
        • Click-throughs from email outperform social media
    • Clients often appreciate a call every few months to check in
      • They will increase their loyalty to you and make them feel supported
      • You will pick up extra work
  • Productise your services:
    • Tiered packages make it easy to compare services
    • Packages provide a jumping off point to start a discussion
  • Be a specialist
    • Create your own niche
    • You can easily become knowledgeable about a particular product or service
    • Creates trust and authority
    • Increases your value
  • Create residual income
    • Sell after-sales support for maintenance etc.
    • This can be a package including other services, e.g. hosting, analytics reports, etc.
    • Retaining your services on a monthly basis creates loyalty

Hopefully these tips can help others to build their businesses and attract/retain the right clients.

Milton Keynes Geek Night – three years on and going from strength to strength (#MKGN)

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I don’t remember how I first became aware of Milton Keynes Geek Night but, three years ago, I turned up in a room above a converted bus station to see what this new event would be like. 13 Geek Nights later (plus a special Geek Mental Health event too) and I haven’t missed a single night*, being described as a “groupie” by one of the founders. I even brought my wife along once…

In the early days, I used to blog about the topics of discussion. More recently I’ve struggled to find the time but the audio from the talks is on SoundCloud (well, all of the talks from Geek Night 3 onwards, that is).

Last night’s MK Geek Night lived up to expectations. Not being a designer or a developer, I tend to find that some of the talks are a little beyond my knowledge but still good for an IT architect to understand at a conceptual level.

I thought that, as MK Geek Night celebrates its third birthday, now would be a good time to look back on some of my favourite talks:

…and then there are Ben Foxall (@BenjaminBenBen)’s talks which are in a category of their own – they need to be on YouTube not SoundCloud! I just cant do them justice in words but how he gets 200 people to join in on their devices and illustrate some amazing functionality inside a browser I do not know. Similarly, Sii Cockerill (@siicockerill)’s dynamic art based on maths/environmental considerations was incredibly visual but you can at least see the results on the web.

I’ll sign off with massive congratulations and a huge thank you to Richard Wiggins (@RichardWiggins) and David Hughes (@DavidHughes) who organise and MC these events – and to all of the sponsors (without whom they wouldn’t be able to take place) – and of course to the speakers too! Here’s to many more years of #MKGN.

 

*There was also an MKGN All-Dayer which I was unable to join but hey, that’s not a “geek night” is it?!

Effectively targetting social media interaction: are you speaking Scottish in Toyko? (Mark McCulloch at #MKGN)

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Every three months, I have a mild panic because:

  1. I’ve successfully registered for Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN) but neglected to put it in my diary.
  2. Three months have gone by and I’ve not blogged about the last MKGN, even though David and Richard know me as the resident blogger…

This time is no exception…

I could say I was distracted because Mrs W. accompanied me to the last Geek Night; I could blame Google Keep for not allowing large enough notes to store a whole evening’s worth of note-taking and for losing the first part of my notes (although it sounds a bit like “the dog ate my homework” and I’m sure I’ve used a similar excuse before) so let’s just stick with “because I’m busy – but MKGN #9 it was a really worthwhile evening and I’m sure #10 will be too”. You can catch the audio on Soundcloud, but I want to write about one talk that I found particularly interesting – Mark McCulloch (@WeAreSpectaculr)’s “Are you speaking Scottish in Tokyo” (which seems to have an additional relevance today)…

Are you speaking Scottish in Toyko?

If you’re wondering what Mark means by “Speaking Scottish in Tokyo” (or, as he put it, “Okinawa the noo!”), Mark’s whole point is that social media interaction needs to be effectively targetted.  He’s quite happy to highlight that his message is based on a book by Gary Vaynerchuk (@GaryVee) – Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World – but it highlights some important points:

  • First up – you need to be native to the social channel in use. Lazy brands put the same post on multiple channels. Sometimes it just doesn’t work…
  • Added to that, many social agencies have no real plan or return on investment.
  • Next – don’t expect instant results: you need to give, give, give, then take. Too many brands broadcast on social media. The good ones have a conversation. The excellent ones hook people in with something that they find useful – and then ask for something in return.

Mark talked about a rule of thirds developed at Yo Sushi (brand, product, fun/health/life); drawn as a Venn diagram you need to hit the point where all three meet and Mark suggests building a mind map of things to talk about based on these 3.

Next, the perfect post needs a call to action that’s easy to understand, perfectly crafted for mobile and for other digital devices – and respects the nuances of the target network… so, for example, on Facebook:

  1. Is the text too long?
  2. Is it provocative, entertaining and/or surprising?
  3. Is the photo striking?
  4. Is the logo visible?
  5. Have you chosen the right format for the post?
  6. Is the call to action in the right place?
  7. Is this interesting?

So, here are some first class “jabs”:

Now, Mark actually showed examples from Facebook – I’ve used the Twitter equivalents here because they are easy for me to embed, but this one doesn’t work on Twitter (more than 140 characters):

Those are all good jabs. This isn’t (it’s too complex):

But this one is a right hook (a new product that’s not too “salesy”):

Knock-out!

And what about when you don’t respect the medium? This is native:

This isn’t:

So, in summary, if you’re a brand using social media to interact with customers:

  1. Plan your social media content using the “rule of thirds”.
  2. Plan your social media content into “jab, jab, jab, right hook” micro stories.
  3. Think about the channel you’re posting on, the native language and the audience behaviours.
  4. Think about the time of day when you’re posting (auto-schedule updates, for example).

What about the other talks?

No promises, but I hope to blog about some of the other talks soon…

And what’s happening tonight?

As usual, tonight’s MKGN looks to have some fascinating talks (I confess I don’t have a clue about Jumbotrons, Twilio or MEAN coding!):

  • Ben Foxhall (@benjaminbenben) is back, this time to talk about “Jumbotrons”!
  • Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) is giving her postponed talk on “Your own definition of success – choosing a profitable side project idea”.
  • Elliot Lewis (@elliotlewis) will be talking about “The Apprentice”.
  • “Code Smarter, be MEAN” is the topic for Tamas Piros (@tpiros).
  • And Michael Wawra (@xmjw) is scheduled to speak about “Twilio”)

Join in!

Milton Keynes Geek Night happens every three months at The Buszy in Milton Keynes (old bus station, opposite Milton Keynes Railway Station) and is free (thanks to generous sponsorship). Because it’s free, and the speakers are generally so good, it “sells out” quickly, but keep an eye on the @MKGeekNight Twitter feed – and bag yourself a place for the next one in December!

Content, typography and geeky stuff (#MKGN)

This content is 10 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

As another Milton Keynes Geek Night approaches, I’ve realised what a terrible blogger I’ve been lately… heck, maybe I don’t even qualify as a geek any more! I thought I’d try and make amends with these notes from the last event – which was, as always, an enjoyable evening with a real mix of speakers providing plenty of food for thought.  If these little tasters leave you wanting more, check out the audio on Soundcloud:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/28799053″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Future Perfect Tense

The first talk was from Relly Annette-Baker (@RellyAB) – bursting with energy as she blasted through her talk on “Future Perfect Tense” – or creating content for in imperfect web. The talk is worth another listen but, effectively, Relly spoke of the separation of content and design so that websites can evolve as technology moves on.

Taking a physical world example, every piece of Lego is built to combine with every piece of past and future Lego, whereas Playmobil have hard-cast mounds.

On the web, our content needs to be structured chunks that build packages (screen sizes, needs, requirements, points). Once we understand what the content is, it can be put in the CMS, and we need to understand how people are using that content.

Additionally, we shouldn’t fork content – pragmatically there are times when we may need a separate mobile site but that’s short term – long term we need to cope with a plethora of devices (from a 1″ watch to a 50″ smart TV – we can’t have a new site for each one). We need to have a plan to move content to new sites.

Netflix is on 100s of devices but only has 3 content formats – short, medium and long.  And, as for the next big thing – Google “iPhone will fail” to see how, in 2006/2007, people were seeing an expensive smartphone, not a cheap portable computer.

None of us know the next cool thing but we don’t need to. Build teams, tools and content that adapt whatever the conduit. Create chunks that can move around and be repurposed. The rest will look after itself…

Knowing you know nothing

Knowing you know nothing was a short talk from James Bavington (@JamesBavington) who started out with a quote, from Socrates no less:

“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing” [Socrates]

Or, to paraphrase:

“You’re stupid if you think you know everything” [James Bavington]

There are many, many tools available to help us in creating websites (thankfully we don’t have to know them all) but web design concepts can be limited by our technical knowledge and ability:

James used an analogy about how he started investigating the Google Maps API to push his skillset and improve the user experience in a site he was creating.  This led him to a side project using the Google Maps API and experimenting with many features.

James takes the view that expanding your technical awareness (not necessarily ability) gives your creativity more to play with.  As someone who struggles with seeing loads of interesting “stuff” that I rarely investigate as fully as I’d like, I may try James’ advice for expanding my knowledge:

  1. Little and often.
  2. Set project challenges.
  3. Have a side project.
  4. Know that I know nothing.

Distributing the future more evenly, with JavaScript

Jeremy Taylor (@jdt_me) was next up – talking about distributing the future more evenly, with JavaScript.  The gist of Jeremy’s talk was that we’re not using the “slab of glass in our pocket” (i.e. smartphone) properly and that, instead of collaborating and solving the grand challenges of our age, corporations are in battle.

Many socially-ethical businesses will use “free” services that rely on ads – it’s just not healthy, Jeremy believes.

Browser is no longer a document browser but is effectively a hypervisor with each tab running in its own sandbox, and WebRTC peer connections to connect them, making the entire web a giant playground.

Citing the examples of Browserify (introduction) leading to WebTorrent, Jeremy suggests that we need simpler tools to create distributed systems and that JavaScript provides new ways to integrate and collaborate.

Sass: a whistle stop tour

Stuart Robson (@StuRobson) gave another 5 minute talk – about a CSS extension language called Sass (Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets).  Stu’s slides are on SpeakerDeck and he describes the talk as “a quick blast through what makes Sass an awesome extension of CSS that you should use no matter how marginally”.  It certainly looks useful to me – with variables, nesting, code snippets and more…

One minute talks

Then, there were the one minute talks with the usual bunch of recruitment pitches, conference plugs, and two that made me sit up and listen:

  • A new TechHub co-working space coming to Milton Keynes (although I can’t find any details on the web).
  • Fibe (sp?) are a young startup of school kids who understand they can only do so much (having said that, the speaker was really confident and came across really well). They are looking for an HTML hermit, a JavaScript genius or a database [demon] to work with and help them…

Take your stinking paws off my design you damn dirty developers

Finally, Andrew Clarke (@Malarkey) gave a provocatively-titled but fascinating talk that is intended to help developers udnerstand design issues.  Andrew’s talk normally takes an hour, so he cut it down to just typography (the full set of slides is on SpeakerDeck) and I could have listened for hours. whoever thought that the finer details of lettering could be so interesting?

I learned how it’s important to understand the size of type to be fused and how the measure (the width of the body of type) can be controlled for comfortable reading by reducing column widths or increasing font sizing (2-3 alphabets, i.e. 56-78 characters is ideal). I learned how adjustments to the measure need to be accompanied by changes to line hight and how different styles should be used for reversed out content to improve readability. I learned that the tracking (word-spacing in CSS) can be used to improve readability and that san serif typefaces need looser line heights.

Then there’s the area of typographically-correct glyphs:

  • Hyphens break words over multiple lines, or join-words.
  • En dashes are longer and denote a range (equivalent to the work “to”), for example 1–10 or Earth–Mars.
  • An em dash is even longer — for a pause — or a separate train of thought in the same sentence. Either use no space or a hair space. And two adjacent em dashes can indicate a missing letter in a w——rd.
  • Single and double primes should be used for feet and inches or minutes and seconds. Never for quotations!
  • Quotations use curly quotes: “ ” or ‘ ’.
  • And an ellipsis is not just 3 dots — it’s one entity… which marks a continuation.

[Related reading: 10 HTML entity crimes you really shouldn’t commit]

Moving on, Andrew spoke of markers and margins in lists, and of using CSS relative positioning to place © close to the baseline – and adjusting parentheses too!

In summary: designers and developers need a better understanding of each other’s work. They need to know how to work together!

When’s the next one?

If you think this sounds good, follow @MKGeekNight or check out the MK Geek Night website – MKGN number 9 is coming up on 12 June 2014 and speakers are:

  • Rachel Andrew (@RachelAndrew): Your own definition of success – choosing a profitable side project idea.
  • Dan Donald (@hereinthehive): Designing evolution.
  • Robert Bavington (@RobertBavington): Responsive Web Design Today.
  • Ben MacGowan (@BenMacGowan): The era of gratuitous animations.
  • Mark McCulloch (@wearespectaculr): Are you speaking Scottish in Tokyo?

There’s usually free beer and pizza too… so what’s not to like! 

Time for another #MKGN

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Woah… where did the last three months go?  It’s Milton Keynes Geek Night (@MKGeekNight) again tomorrow and I haven’t blogged about the last one yet (for that matter I can’t find my notes – in Evernote, OneNote, Keep, or anywhere else).  It’s a good job I don’t rely on this blogging lark for a living…

Luckily, the MKGN team have details of past talks on the website and the audio was recorded for posterity too.  As always, all of the speakers were great – but I particularly enjoyed hearing Christian Payne (@documentally), who I’ve followed for a while on Twitter, gave a really engaging talk about Storymaking.

So, who’s talking this time around?  Keynotes are from:

  • Andrew Clarke (@Malarkey) on the (I imagine somewhat provocatively titled) subject of “take your stinking paws off my design you damn dirty developers”.
  • Relly Annett-Baker (@RellyAB) on “future perfect tense: creating good content for an impefect web” (I think Relly has been promised before – so looking forward to hearing her at MKGN #8).

Then, there are 5 minute talks from:

  • Jeremy Taylor (@jdt_me), talking about “distributing the future more evenly, with JavaScript”.
  • James Bavington (@jamesbavington), on the topic of “knowing you know nothing”.

And, whether you’ve attended MK Geek Night in person, or enjoyed the recorded talks on Soundcloud, maybe you’ll consider voting for MKGN as “Grassroots event of the year” in the .Net Awards 2014?

Right… now lets hope Virgin Trains get me back from Manchester in time…