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.

Comic Neue

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog in Comic Neue

Say hello to an unlikely hero

As we all know some people have very strong feelings about Comic Sans.

Might Comic Neue be the answer?

Comic Neue aspires to be the casual script choice for everyone including the typographically savvy.

Are you typographically savvy? Would you use Comic Neue?

I have to say that I like it, especially the Comic Neue Angular variant… not sure, though, if I’d ever use it. Unless, of course, I plan on designing a comic.

The cobbler’s shoes

Something that has been on my task list for the last few years has been to redesign and re-architect my website garethjmsaunders.co.uk. It has been a perfect case of the cobbler’s shoes: I’ve spent so much time making and fixing websites for other people that I’ve not had time (or energy) to do anything with my own.

Enough is enough. My last site design was in 2003, I think. That was over 10 years ago. In 2003 Internet Explorer 6 was the dominant web browser, the war in Iraq began, Concorde made its last commercial flight, Apple released Mac OS X Panther. A lot has happened in the years since then: web standards have been embraced, the mobile web is on the move, and table-based layouts are so retro!

Issues

The last time I built my site I hand-coded everything using 1st Page 2000 (how I loved that application) before eventually moving to Dreamweaver 4.0 as it automated asset-handling and rewrote paths more quickly than hand-coding everything. I had only just learned CSS 2 and was eager to put it into practice. My site still suffers from a very bad case of both ‘divitis’ and ‘classitis’.

And there’s not much room for expansion. When I created a mini-site to support my Blueprint CSS extras I couldn’t integrate it into my site. The same happened with my original SEC Calendar site.

And last but not least, there is a mild hotchpotch of URLs: a mix of sub-domains (blog.garethjmsaunders.co.uk) and directories (/mahjong, /psion, /writing).

The way forward

After a few months of procrastination and mulling things over, I now realise that I have a number of projects that I want to work on, but as each requires that my website be up to date it is now time to bite the bullet and re-architect.

My current plans:

  • Move to a new host.
  • Standardise URLs, which will also mean that after 11 years on a sub-domain this blog will move to www.garethjmsaunders.co.uk/blog.
  • Mobile-friendly sub-sites.
  • Use a content management system or two.
  • Delete a lot of content.

Having delayed this for a couple of years it will be good to finally get these ‘shoes’ fixed!

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.)