About Gareth J M Saunders

Hi, I'm Gareth J M Saunders, 41 years old, 6' 4", married to Jane, father to twins Reuben and Joshua, and their younger brother Isaac. I'm a priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church and have a passion for Mah Jong, Psion PDAs and web design (particularly HTML, CSS (including frameworks), jQuery, and Agile development). I am employed as the Web Architect at the University of St Andrews.

IA decisions in net magazine: why not match up the browser icons?

Since the net magazine rebrand a few months ago the projects section of the magazine, which is printed on a rougher paper to distinguish itself more easily from the glossier feature articles, often includes a handy guide to which browsers a particular technology supports.

The infographic shows desktop browser support on the left, mobile/tablet support on the right. But in the spirit of Steve Krug’s book Don’t me me think, the way it is currently laid out has me thinking too much. I want to know what their design reasoning is.

Here is an example from the current issue (May 2014), from an article on page 84 called “Slash design/build time with proportional RWD”:

List of desktop browser icons, in two columns: desktop on left, mobile on right

Why don’t the icons match up? This just makes me think too hard.

But whenever I see this it always makes me wonder why they have not matched up the icons. What is the order being shown here? It’s really not obvious to me. It’s not alphabetical, it’s not by version number, or popularity.

Why not simply show a comparison between desktop version and its comparable mobile version, and then any left over can be arranged at the bottom?

I often find myself thinking, “Okay, so this feature is supported from Chrome version 6 onwards, but from which version of mobile Chrome is this supported?” And then I have to go hunting for the Chrome icon on the right-hand list.

Why not match the icons up, like this?

...and relax! The top four icons are matched, leaving the unique browsers to fight it out at the bottom

…and relax! The top four icons are matched, leaving the unique browsers to fight it out at the bottom

That makes it much easier for me to read. My five year old Joshua thinks this makes more sense. What do you think?

BT Broadband finally fixed… maybe BT does care after all

BT speed test results: 16.8 Mb connection to exchange

It has taken me a couple of weeks to write this post. I didn’t want to be overly hasty; I didn’t want to make claims that I couldn’t substantiate. But our broadband connection, which has been a bit flaky since early December, and downright annoying since late January has finally been fixed, after five visits from BT Openreach engineers (one in December, two in February, two in March).

The story so far…

During that time we had the following work done:

  • BT Home Hub 3 replaced for a newer Home Hub 4.
  • Line faults (over 3,000 of them, apparently) cleared from the networking equipment in our street.
  • Master socket changed.
  • Master socket moved from hallway to living room.
  • Changed which pair of wires connects our master socket to the exchange.
  • Powerline adapter changed.

None of this fixed the issue of our broadband connection dropping randomly throughout the day; at most over 100 times a day.

Engineer #5

When the fifth BT Openreach engineer rolled up my spirits lifted a little. This chap—Andy Smith, I think his name is—had visited us about a year ago to resolve a similar issue and he had gone beyond the call of duty to fix our connection by disconnecting all the unused extensions around the house which resulted in a 2Mb increase in download speed.

Like any good physician, he listened to my tale of woe before getting to work checking connections, running line speeds, investigating the BT box in the street. But he returned looking quite glum, reporting that all the tests returned fine: there is definitely not a line fault BUT he could see from his results that there was a problem, he just couldn’t put his finger on it. There was nothing else he could do.

PPP LCP Send Termination Request [User request]

I ran upstairs to fetch a piece of paper that I wanted him to see. It was a print out of the error log the last time it went down. I had noticed that preceding each drop out the error log reported “PPP LCP Send Termination Request [User request]“.

He read the error log and stroked his chin (metaphorically if not literally). “Hmmm…. PPP? Point-to-point protocol. That’s to do with connection not sync speed.”

Then he looked up at me. “That’s all a bit beyond me, to be honest. I don’t understand what it all means…”

My heart sank.

“… but I do know someone who does!” He got out his mobile phone, called a colleague, and then spoke gobbledegook for ten minutes before calling me down the stairs again.

The plan was to “move [me] to new broadband equipment at the exchange”. The engineer at the other end of the phone had already done it from his end, but Andy needed to drive to the exchange and physically swap our network cable from one piece of kit to another. It would take about 10 minutes.

Fixed

And that was it. Fixed! We had a steady, solid, fast connection for over 7 days before it performed another reboot, but it looks like this was just to re-sync the speed; it did it again this afternoon.

And as for @BTCare…

A few weeks ago, in the midst of our most frustrating experience of BT broadband I wrote a very disappointed blog post. I’m sorry I felt that I had to write that post, because as I had said before and as I have waxed lyrical to many people over the years on the whole I’ve found @BTCare to be a world-class customer service experience.

It did the job, however. Twenty minutes after posting that mild diatribe, I took a call from Niall at BTCare. “How are you today?” he asked.

“I’m really disappointed,” I said, quite honestly.

Niall was very apologetic about not getting in touch when he said he would. He never missed another call again. He called each time he said he would, and he faithfully kept up to date with the progress of my support incident.

In short, Niall actually did restore my confidence in BTCare—it just goes to show the difference that one person can make on behalf of the company they represent in changing attitudes. By the end of it I certainly felt that Niall from BT cared, and Andy Smith from BT Openreach cared, even if BT itself was still maybe a little ambivalent about me, so long as I kept paying my monthly bills.

Which reminds me, they offered me a refund on my broadband connection back to the date in January that this portion of the incident was first reported.

A very enthusiastic and heartfelt thank you to Niall at BTCare, and Andy Smith (?) at BT Openreach.

A new societal aim?

Many small light bulbs equal big one

How inspiring is this as a political statement, published in New Statesman, 25-31 October 2013?

Our political leaders are using the economic downturn to push through a neoliberal agenda that will dismantle the welfare state, privatise public services and extend the huge inequality of wealth and power that scars our society. It’s no accident that those responsible for the crash have greatly increased their wealth over the past few years while half a million people across the country now have to use food banks to survive and a third of disabled people live in poverty.

Under the banner of austerity, welfare claimants are demonised as lazy scroungers and disabled people are stereotyped as burdens on the state. Aided by the corporate press, the government is stoking up hate and anger as we are encouraged to turn against each other rather than identify the true source of our problem: a corrupt and increasingly undemocratic system that has replaced the principle of one person, one vote with one pound, one vote.

We need a new societal aim, one that respects the limits of the natural world and places human well-being at its centre. The prevailing ethos has been one of greed, competition and inequality, and we must build a new society driven by the goals of sustain-ability, compassion and equality.

We need to democratise workplaces, dramatically increase investment to create “green jobs”, tax carbon emissions, raise corporate taxes and increase regulation, reform the financial sector and adopt a raft of other common-sense policies. We need a revolution of our ideas, and an explosion of hope, creativity and co-operation. We need to build a society in which every person is free to live with dignity. We need to pull together as one species and protect this beautiful piece of rock that we call home.

Sadly though, it wasn’t written by a politician but comedian Francesca Martinez. That’s genuinely one reason that I love so much comedy: it often cuts through to the heart of the matter.

To sign Francesca’s War on Welfare petition, visit: wowpetition.com.

Chaplainroulette

Say hello to the nice vicar!

Say hello to the nice vicar!

Well since my photograph-uploading social network for clergy didn’t take off—it was called vickr! I’m turning my attention now to a chat room where clergy can randomly speak with one another. It’s called chaplainroulette!

Not really, but I did enjoy a good couple of hours’ chat online this evening with my dear friend Fr Simon thanks to Skype. (Even though it was a bit flaky on Ubuntu.)

Voivod—Killing Technology

 

Last night I drove to Dundee to watch the new Lamb of God documentary ‘As the Palaces Burn‘ I listened to Voivod‘s third album Killing Technology (1986).

Voivod, from Canada, were one of the first metal bands I got into along with Celtic Frost, Metallica and Slayer. Plenty of friends, both then and now, listened to Killing Technology and simply couldn’t understand what I heard in “that noise”.

As I drove north through the cold, dark, wet night beyond St Andrews towards the Tay bridge I was reminded of similar nights as a young teenager growing up in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders trying to make sense of life. This album is now inseparably fused with my memories of those early years. But I suppose it’s not so much sentimentality as thankfulness.

There’s an unpredictability about this album. There’s a boldness and a fragility, that saw me through many an early crisis. This is the music that gave me hope, that no matter how unclear or uncertain I was about how life may turn out it would be an adventure, and that life… LIFE… was bigger and more incredible and wondrous than the small glimpse that I saw as a frightened teenager peering between his fingers in a sleepy Scottish Borders town, wondering if his dad would ever be okay again (he had three brain haemorrhages in 1983), worrying about how his Mum was coping, as well as all the usual teenage stuff (spots, girls, school) and occasionally wishing that he could just escape. And this was one of those albums that helped me do that but remain there at the same time.

I listened to this album in the car last night, in the dark, through the rain and fog, and I remembered listening to it on my personal cassette player back in the late 80s. I remembered walking down Forest Road on a cold and moonless winter’s night, probably having taken our dog Zen for a walk, and I felt thankful. I felt thankful for the love and support that I got from my parents as I grew up. I felt thankful for the group of friends who accepted me as we were trying to figure out how this life thing worked. I felt thankful for the hours of music, on miles of cassette tape, that helped me through it all; music that challenged me, that opened my eyes and ears to ideas beyond my homely little cottage on Forest Road.

I listened to this album in the car last night for the first time in years, and while I acknowledged all of that, that history, I simply marvelled at the genius of this album that I don’t think Voivod ever surpassed on any other album (as brilliant as they also are).

Another bonus is that the production is such that the frequencies don’t get lost amidst the rumble of the road while listening to it in a car!

It’s funny how deeply attached I feel to the third albums of these four bands, my big four:

  • Voivod—Killing Technology (1986)
  • Celtic Frost—Into the Pandemonium (1987)
  • Metallica—Master of Puppets (1986)
  • Slayer—Reign in Blood (1986)

Even now when I listen to it my soul sours, it still makes me smile, it still delights me after all these years, and it still surprises me. This is music that continues to give me life and bring me hope.

For me this is an almost perfect album.

Offline documentation with Zeal and Sublime Text

Zeal - a documentation browser

Zeal – a documentation browser

Yesterday I came across a really useful application for web development which has already sped up my workflow when needing to look for documentation: Zeal.

The efficiencies come about mostly because instead of having to open up a new browser tab, then either search or navigate to any documentation bookmarks you may have saved, you can instead search (or browse) within the official documentation which has been downloaded to Zeal.

Download documentation sets

Inspired by the Mac-only application Dash, Zeal is a simple offline API documentation browser.

In other words, select the languages you want documentation for, click download and it’s all available in one easy-to-search location.

Select which documentation sets (docsets) you want and click Download

Select which documentation sets (docsets) you want and click download.

You can either browse the documentation, or simply search.

By default searching returns results from all documentation downloaded, but you can also prefix your search terms with the name of a particular language followed by a colon should you wish to limit the search to only that language or framework, e.g. wordpress: get_header.

In order to install it you first have to unzip the application files to your C:\Program Files directory, or C:\Program Files (x86)\ for Windows 64-bit, and create your own shortcut—there isn’t an automatic installer.

Sublime Text integration

Where I’m finding it particularly useful is within my coding editor Sublime Text, using the Zeal Sublime Text package (available for both Sublime Text 2 and 3) which allows you to search the documentation from within Sublime Text, without lifting your fingers from the keyboard.

I found that to configure it I had to first install the package (using Will Bond’s excellent package control), then run it by pressing Shift+F1 which returns an error, and then locate the Zeal.sublime-settings file (via Preferences > Browse Packages…) and update the “zeal_command” parameter to wherever you unzipped the zeal.exe file, which for me looks like:

"zeal_command": "C:\\Program Files (x86)\\Zeal\\zeal.exe",

Then in Sublime Text itself I have two options:

  1. Select something to look up and hit F1.
  2. Or press Shift+F1 to open the Zeal search box to type in my search term.

As an example, I’ve just highlighted padding-left in my CSS code and pressed F1.

Highlight a keyword press F1 and Sublime Text sends that plus its context (a CSS file) to Zeal

Highlight a keyword press F1 and Sublime Text sends that plus its context (a CSS file) to Zeal

You will notice that the Sublime Text plugin has also respected the search term’s context, within a CSS file, and passed that too as an argument.

I’m really impressed and thoroughly recommend you check it out if you are involved in any kind of coding. Both Dash and Zeal share the same documentation sets. There are a lot! And it can also be integrated into a lot of editors, not just Sublime Text, such as Coda, TextMate, Emacs, Vim, Eclipse, and PhpStorm.