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Phantogram - Voices

What is the point, in this day and age, of releasing an album in just one country? I refer to this weeks US-only release of the new Phantogram album Voices, while other countries have to wait. Yes, there are obviously ‘other ways’ to get it, but not all of them will support the band I love or should be necessary. It should be as simple as “It’s out, buy and download it here”, especially when all their previous material has been available to buy.

It’s also a shame, because it really is a fantastic album. Four of the eleven tracks were already released on the Phantogram EP (which months later after the US release, has finally been released in the UK this week) but the album has a whole is their strongest yet. I’m finally going to see them live in London on May 13th and can’t wait!

Here’s a taster, the video for ‘Fall in Love’ featuring the art of none other than Mr Praystation Joshua Davis!

Return of MYOB

Last week I was contacted by the Mac team at MYOB, the software that I briefly wrote about 2 years ago. There isn’t a lot in that post, but it’s negative, and apparently showing up rather high in UK only searches for ‘MYOB’.

The chap I spoke to explained how much MYOB had improved since v11 (the last one I used), so I felt it was my duty to at least give a trial (even though I am now hiring a Bookkeeper for my finances). I offered to hide the original post while I did so, as I felt really sorry for them. After giving v16 a spin, I made the post live again (which is why it suddenly popped up again as the latest post on Monday – doh!) and here is the feedback I sent to them:

  • Installation took over 40 mins! A .sit file had to be expanded, followed by a .dmg and then an installer where the location had to be chosen. First of all, stuffit no longer comes with Mac by default (so I had to download an application to open the .sit file), a .zip would’ve been better. Secondly, Mac users are used to just dragging and dropping an application into their applications folder – simple and straightforward. Many developers are now doing away with drive images, and simply zipping the application itself, which is even better. The Aladdin installer not only took ages to install, but looked very dated. The instruction text looked like OS 9!
  • Once installed, it launched the ‘whats new’ page in Safari, rather than respecting my default browser setting.
  • Opening the app and creating a new company file, the Assistant featured a badly aliased and compressed oval image. Form fields are the OS 9 style text (Geneva?), and go to Anti-Aliased Lucida Grande once filled in – looks horrible!
  • The ‘Command Centre’ interface is still the same horrible mess from v11. It still looks and acts like a PC application that has been ported to OS 9, and then to X. Functions and features are still hidden behind layers of tabs and windows and dropdowns. Aside from a new application icon (which is a bit of a confused mess in itself) I see no interface changes that make this look and act more like a Mac application.
  • Address Book integration. The fact that it has to ‘sync’ addresses, and then warns you to back up addressbook data meant I didn’t want to proceed! How unnerving is that? I use Billings to do my invoices, and that simply uses an Address Book group (which it creates automatically) to read addresses from – no syncing needed!
  • The invoice template customisation is better, but nowhere near good enough. There are also no controls for things like line-spacing
  • Apparently iCal integration is coming, but as it isn’t yet available, I can’t comment on that. Quite frankly I didn’t want to go any further.

Overall, MYOB still feels un-intuitive, messy and distinctly un Mac-like. Maybe these things don’t matter much to the rest of MYOB’s market, but they do to me.

If you want to see a Mac finance app done right, look at the wonderful Billings, my invoice application and job timer of choice. It’s everything that MYOB isn’t: usable and native.

A plea for a decent cuppa

A good cup of tea and sit down

From high street coffee shop chains to a visitor’s café at some attraction (such as the one I went to at Alnwick Castle last week), I’m being left with a bad taste in my mouth.

All that specialist equipment, ‘barista’ training, and trouble spent over making a good cup of coffee – then when you ask for a cup of tea, you get a tea bag dumped in a mug, and over-boiled water from an urn poured over it. The muck you get at other end of this passionless process is fairly undrinkable.

It’s to these folks that I want to get this message across: Boil some fresh water please.

To brew tea leaves, the water needs to be oxygenated. Constantly re-boiling water removes that vital element – the water needs to be freshly drawn (throw out any old water in the urn), and freshly boiled if it’s to stand a chance of getting the flavour out of those leaves. Even with tea bags, you can get a good result.

If the the tea can be made in a pre-warmed pot (a cold pot means a loss of brewing heat), with loose tea, then so much the better. The time the tea is left to brew is down to personal taste and the type of tea (for example green tea needs very little brewing time) – but no longer than 5 mins or the tea will be ‘over-stewed muck’. The ideal is to be handed a freshly made pot and a mug, and leave it up to the customer to finish the job.

All I want is to be able to go out with coffee drinkers, and be able to get a cup of tea, made with the same attention as their cappucinos or lattés. Thanks for listening!

Naughty Inuits Provoke Surly Alligators

I love Flickr me. It’s so easy to use, it’s API means there are many tools to use with it and there is great community there. Its quick and fun, which is why I tend to post so much screenshot based stuff there, rather than here on my blog.

But screenshots are not what Flickr is about. Flickr is about photos. Got that? Its a photo sharing site. If you don’t post photos you get what’s called a ‘NIPSA’, which stands for ‘Not In Public Search Areas’. You’re hidden away from public view – your images no longer show up on the homepage (not that they ever stay there long!), or in tag searches. You’re not informed when you’ve been NIPSA’d, one day you discover for yourself.

I’ve been waiting to see when my Flickr account became NIPSA’s (Not In Public Search Areas), and its finally happened. I presume the process is a manual one, and that there is someone at Flickr looking through streams, counting the ratios of photos to ‘non-photos’. Quite what that ratio is I know not.

The whole subject of when is a photo a non-photo is dealt very well in this blog post, so I don’t need to repeat it here. Suffice to say the distinction is a grey area to everyone but Flickr.

I can see this from both sides. If you create a photo sharing site, then you’d jolly well want to see it continue as such, and not be sullied. However, as a paid-up user, the policy seems a harsh one to me, and I think that they should embrace the fact that the community has found Flickr even more useful than they intended it to be. Showing what they’re listening to, discussing site designs or showing sketches and illustrations.

Being NIPSA’d isn’t the end of the world though. It’s a shame, but it doesn’t mean Flickr are bad people, or that the service isn’t worthwhile – far from it. From the responses given to Drawn.ca over their use of Flickr for showing illustrations, it looks like non-photos will be accommodated sometime in the future. I’ve also seen suggestions for a Pictr or Illustratr type sister site to Flickr, which sounds great, as long as the community isn’t divided up.

In the meantime, a notification email from the Flickr team to let you know you’ve been NIPSA’d would be polite! ;o)

Bloody Minded

I’m afraid to say that whenever anyone points out a validation error, accessibility issue or bug in this site, and ends it with this phrase:

You might want to do something about that

It just makes me want to do the opposite:

  • add more validation errors
  • add more bugs
  • possibly add some <blink> tags for good measure
  • turn the whole page into a gif :P

If anything spurs me into action it’s not those words! ;)

Grumpy old man

The older I get, the grumpier I get. I didn’t see this coming, but nowadays I feel more need to rant about the crap things than before:

Web Related Rants

  • You see a nice looking site on Netdiver or Styleboost. You think to yourself “Mmm, I’m gonna get me a look at that tasty looking site”. You click the link, all innocent. A BIG FULL SCREEN POP UP WINDOW TAKES OVER THE WHOLE CHUFFING SCREEN!!
  • Flippin’ Google Ads between the blog entry and the comments. I’m not against Google Ads (I’ve flirted with them on PimpMySafari after all), but this particular placement annoys the hell out of me. Obviously this is a good placement for the blog owner concerned. Thank goodness for ad-blocking.
  • Self made Job titles like ‘User Experience Architect’. Aaargh.

Other rants

  • When you buy food that has a ‘serving suggestion’, in which the photo suggests you put the food on a plate. Thanks for the help.
  • Straplines that claim that the product is “XXX your Way”. The worst one I heard came tonight on a toothpaste advert – “Its your mouth, brush it your way!”
  • That on channels like Nick Jr, a channel for pre-school children and above, the adverts are predominantly for loan consolidation (“worried about you debts? Feeling like there is no way out?”). The worst one was for chuffin’ burglar alarms, depicting a masked man breaking into a house at night when everyone was asleep!

I’ll spare you more of this curmudgeonly behaviour. Normal ‘happy and poppy’ service will be resumed…

Branding with Arial

Many before me have expressed their feelings about Arial, and I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing how it’s a badly made derivative of Helvetica and Grotesque. You all know that to use Arial in print, means that you may as well go the whole hog and use Comic Sans.

However, over the last 4 years I have come across too many ‘branding guidelines’ where the company’s typeface specified has been Arial. Not by CEO’s or administration staff, but by the “creatives” that the company hired! In some cases, it’s been respected, supposedly experienced branding specialists.

Arial is the new company font!

There can be only one reason for this, Arial’s ubiquity is seen as an advantage. Why pay for a new typeface, when everyone has got a copy?! No need to install either! It amazes me that designers make such decisions, but it has happened more time than I’d like to remember.

Aside from the usual arguments, my main reasons for not using Arial in company branding are:

  1. Its ubiquity is its downfall. Its bloody everywhere. Go to the bother of creating print material using Arial, and it will look like something your dad printed out from his PC. (For some charities, this is a positive boon though. If it looks as if you’re spending too much money on the magazine, regular givers will take their money elsewhere! Seriously.)
  2. With no proper italics, the oblique version of the font has to be slanted. Not a a true italic, as this article shows. Even uglier!
  3. As a web font is where Arial works best, not in print, and certainly not as the chuffin’ branding.

So how do we turn this around? For some clients (Charities spring to mind immediately) cost is the major factor. We need a well designed typeface family, containing the 4 basics – Roman to Bold Oblique, thats very economical to buy in either small or large quantities. Do you have any suggestions that fit the bill?

Do I blog for profit, backhanders or Scotch Eggs* ?

No.

Sometimes I’ve been sent ‘stuff’. Mac apps, BBEdit window stickers, someone even sent me 4 CDs from their record label! I often get asked to link to, or promote, something. Sometimes I’m fortunate to have been a beta tester for various apps – desktop or web based. I love getting a sneaky peek of things, and having an opportunity to make suggestions.

I don’t always like them or find them worthwhile. You don’t get to hear about those (and there are quite a lot).

Sometimes I see something that I love, and I do want to use. I like it so much that I want to tell others about it. You get to hear about those – those are the things I like writing about.

Its taken me much deliberation before I even added Google Ads to a side-project ($4 over 3 months!! Wahey!!).

My point is: I don’t hype for the sake of it, or because I get some ‘deal’. I resent any implication of that. I just pimp things that I like, and that I want to tell others about. There’s never anything ‘in it for me’.

You know what I’m talking about.

(*Well maybe for Scotch Eggs.)

SXSW: Trying to get my bags back

One thing worse than arriving in Austin, smelly and tired from a long crappy flight from Heathrow, is doing it without my luggage.

(Dials the American airlines airport baggage line to check on progress)

“This service is voice operated. Please speak clearly when instructed.”
(OK, here we go)

“Please state your destination”
AUSTIN

“I think you said Austin, Texas. Is this correct, please state yes or no.”
YES

“Please state your last name after the tone I’msorryIdidn’thearthat.”
?!!

“Please state your last name.”
HICKS

“I think you said Hickson. H-i-c-k-s-o-n. Is this correct, please state yes or no”
NO!!

“You said no. Lets try again. Please state your last name”
*HICKS*

“I think you said Heaters. H-e-a-t-e-r-s. Is this correct, please state yes or no”
NOOOOOOO!!!

“Thankyou, accesssing your records now. (bidee-bidee-bidup-bidee-bidee-bidee). Thankyou for waiting Mr Heaters, your baggage arrived yesterday…”

I shouldn't be allowed near computers

I’ve not had a good time with hardware recently. In the last 2 months, the following has happened:

G4 Powerbook – Tried to defrag using TechTool (yes 10.3 does still need defragging, as it only defrags files under 20mb), managed to corrupt the hard drive, and lost 8 months of digital photos. Now I know I was an arse to try this without backing up first. My freelance work is backed up religiously every night, its just the personal stuff I was slack about.

Tried to re-install the OS using my 10.1 disk and upgrade disks for 10.2 and 10.3. The 10.1 disk no longer worked, so I had to buy a new copy of 10.3 to get the OS re-installed.

G5 – Graphics card died (one whole week after the warranty ran out), no OEM parts available for a few months, so got a third party card which was outputting a signal too powerful for my monitor that it made it switch into standby. A driver upgrade was eventually found, and all was, finally, well.

G4 Powerbook – again. Stopped charging, needed new internal DC connector.

Backup Drive – dropped from a height of 12 inches, and promptly stopped working. Bought a 200gb Firewire 800 drive for less than half the 20gb drive cost me over 2 years ago. Sheesh.

iPod – no longer mounts. Still haven’t solved that one, any ideas gratefully received. It still charges and shows up in system profiler’s list of firewire devices, but no show.

Netgear ADSL Modem – Dies, taking my internet connection with it. No more broadband for me, I’m currently on a restricted dial up connection, and boy do I feel withdrawal symptoms. However, this at least has a good story, as the Netgear comes with a 3 year guarantee, and a replacement is already in the post! When I rang Technical Support, I was straight through to an informed, friendly chap who was enormously helpful. No switchboard – nice one Netgear, I’m very impressed!

Engineers time to attempt to recover data £90
OS X 10.3 £100
Loss of family photos and movies priceless
New ATI Radeon Graphics Cardcard £280
Engineers time to diagnose problem and fit new card £90
New OEM DC Conenctor and engineers time to fit £115
New Firewire drive £120
Total cost *£795*

The only hardware left not to fail is the printer and the scanner. I’m waiting.

The moral of story is, don’t go freelance. Let your company pay for it. Oh, and also, you can’t make too many backups…

Red Channel

Stop the red channel

When I use Photoshop, I want apple-1 to show the file at 100% (or ‘actual pixels’), just like every other adobe application I use. I don’t want to look at the red channel.

Photoshop CS has a nifty feature allowing you to customise its keyboard shortcuts, but guess which command isn’t listed?!

I beg of you, has anyone found a way around this?

Invasion of the Bandwidth Suckers

To say that I’m fuming right now would really be an understatement.
Its bad enough having a live but unfinished site, and not getting time to work on it, but this took the biscuit, the teacup, and whole sweet trolley.

Earlier today, I had an email warning that I was currently 7gb over my 25gb a month bandwidth limit. WTF*?! In a panic, I added a new .htaccess file to redirect all pages to a basic holding page to try and slow it down a bit (please note: this was me, not SegPub. I didn’t get ‘cut off’). I later removed this after I’d calmed down a bit, but the fact remained, something fishy was going on.

Jeremy at Segpub tracked down the cause to a single IP address requesting the landscape image on the right, every second for the last 2 days! Thats over 700,000 times!

*Please note, thats the closest I’ve ever come to swearing on my blog.

Update: The admin of the network concerned contacted me to (sort of) explain what had happened – “I’m told he had found your page in a google search about BBedit, and had left a browser open at that page. I have no idea why the browser continued to download your image. I am convinced that it was an unfortunate accident,
though, and not done to cause you any harm.”. It also appears to be have been over 16 hours, rather than 2 days, and that it was someone who went home, leaving the page reloading.

This still leaves the issue of the reloading page. I’d seen this happening in IE only at the weekend. If anyone else can confirm that this is still happening, I’d be grateful. The image will probably reload on resize though.

Recycled CSS

Kenichi Design believe in recycling CSS. I love the copyright line in the code:

- All site contents, HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML, images, code, and text are copyright © 2004, kenichidesign. All Rights Reserved Forever.->

Forever! Final word! Zip! Apart from the bits I nicked from Hicksdesign…

Updated: Kenichi design have now removed their style sheets. The guy didn’t discuss it with me (I was perfectly happy as long he removed the copyright line), but I guess there’s a language barrier that would make discussion hard. Shame.

Beware the CSS Hackers!

If you haven’t already, go and read Peter Paul Koch’s article ‘Keep it Simple’ for Digital Web Magazine. I was left speechless, not sure whether this was a spoof or that he really thinks these things.

Basically, his assertion is that ‘CSS Hackers’ are actively spending time creating hacks just to feel superior and to dazzle, deceive and seduce ‘innocent newbies’. Tee hee! Or am I being naivé? Is there really an underlying conspiracy that I’m blissfully unaware of in my ‘happy and poppy’ world?

“Complicated CSS hacks are the modern equivalents of the frames and tables. Their use serves to give the Web author a feeling of mastery”

My feeling is that unlike frames and tables, CSS hacks do not alter the the content, make it inaccessible or difficult to navigate. I see CSS hacks as a real-world solution to the problem of crappy browsers, without changing the markup or content. Sure, I try and avoid hacks wherever possible, but if all I have to is add a 2 line hack to make sure a layout works in IE 5 WIn – I’m jolly well going to do it! I don’t do it to feel masterful, I do it to get something working.

If we follow his recommendations, I fear that CSS design would be left in the basic, boxy world that it has been derided for.

What do you think?

flash and not-so-flash

It would seem that the owner of the Histology World! site is feeling a little sore, after recent criticism of his marathon flash intro by Zeldman. As a client of mine put it, “he needs to stop blaming his communication failures on his audience”.

Anyway, here’s an excellent antidote to all that: After Life: The Four Seasons of Streatham Cemetery by photographer Jonathan Clark. This mesmerising site uses Flash in a thoughtful, subtle and effective way. You could meditate to this…

No Camino till next year?

I feel like a boy who’s been told that there’s no Christmas this year. The news from Mike Pink is that there may not be Camino 8 until next year. The last milestone release of Camino came out in early March, and since then there has been the huge upheaval of AOL sending Mozilla out to fend for itself. Mike is now one of a very small team (I’d heard it was 3?) developers working on Camino. Its great that he won’t let it die, but frustrating that there aren’t more hands to help. It seems that Camino’s direction, development and communication all rests heavily on the shoulders of someone who has a life too, and simply hasn’t the time.

For those OS X users who haven’t tried Mozilla’s Camino, these are my reasons for using it over Safari:

  • Configurable search bar (Add as many as you search engines as you like – although it would be nice if there was an interface within Camino to do this, rather than editing a .plist file.)
  • Configurable pop-up blocker – choose which sites you allow pop-ups from
  • Better CSS rendering (I.E Mozilla’s!)
  • Tooltips – rather than Safari’s illegible status bar
  • Proper display of page titles
  • Send link facility
  • A true OS X style customizable toolbar
  • Option to prevent sites resizing your window. (I hate that – its like having a stranger come up to you in the street and reorganise your clothes).

Having said that, Safari has autofill, the ability to spoof user agents, and an elegant interface. Camino’s buttons make it look as rough as an old badger, and uses standard OS X tabs, which doesn’t help.


I don’t want Camino to go. Its a great little browser, with fantastic potential, but I fear the silence and passing of time with no roadmap or release dates will mean that it will just grind to a halt.

the entourage experience

For ages I’ve been trying to work out why my mac has been running so slow. Its a better spec than my powerbook, and yet that runs much faster and zipper. Last week I felt I’d tried everything else (Disk Doctor, Disk Utility, repairing permissions, defragging, system optimiser etc) and all that was left was a clean install. OS X shouldn’t need this in the way that 0S9 used to. And lo, it made no difference apart from gaining some HD space back.

Today I found out what was wrong. I use Microsoft Entourage, a fantastic application which organizes my life, stores my notes and contacts, keeps track of my jobs, as well providing my email. It started going very wappy. I rebuilt the mail database (start up Entourage while holding down the option key). ‘Rebuilding and compacting 8457 messages’ said the window (I hadn’t done it for a while). Once it had finished (and old database files trashed), not only was Entourage back to normal, but my whole mac was zippy and responsive again.

My wife, who is great believer in archiving old emails, is now laughing at me, “So you can use Movable Type, but you can’t use email properly?!”

Let this be a lesson to you. Rebuild. Regularly.

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