Tag Archives: technology

AngularZone July 2016 Meetup Review

I hadn’t been to any meetups in quite some time, but this inaugural meetup of the new AngularZone community had a lot of draw… Service Workers, D3, prizes, and more.

The meetup was organised by Gerard Sans, who has a history of speaking and organising meetups. It was held in the large hall of the Skills Matter CodeNode venue, which is a perfect venue for a meetup of a decent size.

As it was the first meetup for AngularZone, Gerard gave us a brief intro to what his view was for it. His idea is that physical meetups will take place once every two months, and have topics on web tech in general, and in particular Angular. He’d like to see talks, and a community, driven by passion. As well as the meetups and obvious greatness of tech talks he would like to see a community contribution program come into affect, where folk (including himself and Todd Motto – that guy gets around, right) can give advice as seasoned speakers and bloggers. It sounds not to far removed from his previous Angular Labs idea, though to be honest I didn’t get involved in that, so this is purely guesswork.

But anyhoo… on to the talks

Service Workers – Phil Nash

Up first was Phil Nash talking us through Service Workers. Now these are not overly new, but still very much in the early days of adoption. If you are new to Service Workers though, you can start by thinking of them an intelligent way to support offline behaviour for your web sites and apps. They’re the successor to the painful-to-understand-implement-manage app cache tech and have been greatly pushed with the current rise of the PWA (Progressive Web App).

We were, of course, shown the awesomeness that is the trailer for Service Worker, and I felt sorry for AppCache, so I put one together. I could apologise for the distracting gif, but I won’t, and I still pronounce it Gif, not Jif, deal with it.

AppCache, The Trailer
AppCache, The Trailer

At the time of wrting, Service Workers are available in the latest builds of Chrome, Firefox and Opera, and are known to be being actively worked on in Edge… and in the words of Phil, “who knows about Safari”.

We were shown some demos that Phil had been playing on thath utilised the Twillio API. His demos used various features exposed through Service Workers (offline, notifications, background sync, etc). Service Worker is a very powerful browser feature, and one I hope that will soon be adopted so I can use it in the hybrid apps we’re building at MobileCaddy.

‘Service Workers, turning “online by default” to “offline first”‘
– Phil Nash, 2016

One of the key features I see available in Service Workers over AppCache is the ability to programatically blat assets from the cache, and I can not wait to use it and say good ridance to AppCache.

Phil’s talk was really interesting and very well presented. His passion and knowledge were obvious. If you’re after his slides, they can be found here.

Using D3 with Angular2 – Ændrew Rininsland

Ændrew is a journalist/data wrangler at the FT and set off to take us through using (the bloomin’ black-magical D3.js) in Angular2 projects.

His talk started off with some comments on TypeScript and how having typed languages should catch silly bugs earlier on in a project’s lifecycle (though he also mentioned a blog post that argues that there isn’t any factual proof of this). Something that is hard to argue with about TypeScript though is the benefits of it’s self-documenting characteristic, which can only be a good thing.

“Angular devs are cooler than React devs… Just sayin'”
– Ændrew Rininsland, 2016

Before we got to any real D3, Ændrew also gave a few personal observations of ng2;

  • On a blank ng2 project – Never has he had so much code, over so many files, doing so very little
  • ng2 is really fast

Even being fairly new to ng2 myself, these points certainly ring true with me.

After much config hacking and setup, we  finally got around to seeing some D3 code, which by comparison was relatively short and straight-forward – in a “my mind can’t take in any more info” kind of way. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over how magical D3.js is and how much sorcery their implementors use to bend it into shape, but the output of beautiful data visualisations always blows my mind.

Closing

Gerard had a few prizes to be won, which is a nice touch for a new meetup, so kudos to him. I even won a year’s JetBrains license… so even better.

Talking of free-stuff now’s a good time to thank Gerard for putting on a really interesting meet and to the sponsors (skills matter, eSynergySolutions, poncho8, JetBrains, Google Developers) for covering the venue, food, drinks and prizes.

Talks were recorded and should be up on the skills matter site in the near future.

Too Helpful

I’d be the first to admit that I’m no “deisgn guru” and that when you come from a developers back ground trying to work out how users will use a system (be it an e-Commerce web site or a Twitter Client) it is always tough to work out just how the users will go about their business. There is a real hurdle to overcome when trying to use a system as a user rather than as someone who’s deisgned (in terms of workflow at least) and built it.

It’s easy to get into the kind of mindset of “well of course you then click X to get to Y” which is why usability testing is really important. We have to remember that web sites will be used (hopefully) all the time by people who’ve never been there before and hence things should be logical and flow… and when this is not always so simple provide enough guidance to aid the user.

Sometimes folks can go too far… and in fact confuse the user. Take a look at the screenshot below and think about where you’d instinctively click to go to the next page. Bear in mind that it’s likely you’ve just scanned down the text (although I’ve blurred it here but please pretend that the text might be semi-important).

Too helpful?

I would think that most people would click the right facing arrow at the centre bottom of the page, bearing in mind that they’ve just scanned the text above. Yup, the one with the word continue written next to it. Either that or they also see the button at the top right and then may think “Oh, which one do I press and does it matter at all?”. Sadly you’ve got at best a 50% chance of going nowhere. In fact these arrows at the bas of the page are not buttons at all but simply ‘helpful’ instructions about the arrows that will appear at the top right corner of each page.

So what’s the lesson here? Testing is important… and it’s no good just testing something yourself as you know what and how a system is meant to work.

My 1st Plugin is Released

Wordpress.org
Wordpress.org

As part of my work for Gingerbread Design I have just released my first WordPress plugin into the wild. The plugin provides bulk functionality to help manage eCommerce web sites/stores. Details of the plugin can be found on the official plugin homepage and of course can be downloaded from the WordPress.org plugin directory.

Please, please try this out if you use the WP e-Commerce plugin in your own web site/store and let me know which other bulk features may be of interest and most use to you.

PingDroid – Android App Review

PingDroid, the ping.fm client built for the Android OS is an absolute must for anyone who mixes in a plethora of social network circles by enabling the automatic cross posting of ‘Status updates’ to various communities such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Bebo, etc etc. The client itself is reassuringly lightweight and does what all good tools need to do… do something, and do it well. If you, like me, see the value in Ping then be sure to check out their igoogle gadget too.

Pingdroid Logo
Pingdroid

Ping.fm as a service is growing constantly and the number of web services that it talks to is just ever-expanding and is certainly worth keeping an eye on if they don’t at present support the platforms that you use.

PingDroid was devloped by Bryan Waters and is available via the Android Market.

Klaxon – Android App Review

Klaxon is a beautiful simple alarm clock application for the Android powered devices. To be honest there is nothing uber special about it at all; it simply has functions which should have been in the default Alarm Clock app that comes pre-installed. Features like the ability to modify the snooze time and set an increasing tone volume are just what the doctor ordered.

Klaxon
Klaxon for Android

I’ve never experienced a ‘force close’ from the application and anyone who wants more from an alarm than offered by default on the G1 could certainly do worse than give Klaxon a whirl.

Klaxon was developed by Koushik Dutta and is available via the Android Market.

Never have to remember your charger again

This could be great news for any occasional (or not so occasional) travellers… one type of mobile charger to suit them all. I read today via PC World that the GSM association have agreed that mobile phone chargers of the future will have a USB mini-type interface. This would mean that when you get a new phone you won’t need a new charger as well (good on a green note) and hopefully will mean a drop in the price of chargers too.

I also hope that this won’t only be a move that the mobile phone manufacturers take up but also one that is followed by the producers of other portable devices such as MP3 players and SatNavs (of course these products may actually just be one piece of equipment by this point in time).

EeePC – First Thoughts

I’d been contemplating buying one of the Asus ultra-portable notebooks ever since the launch of their 701 model last year. I thought it’d make an ideal travel companion and a nice light-weight alternative to me having to haul around my relatively large Sony Vaio (an enormous wide-screen beast). The benefits are such a device – aside from the physical size) include the super efficient Intel Atom processor, the solid state storage (which means more power saving, less heat generation, less noise and a more shock proof system when compared to a standard hard drive) and of course weight. I’d been extremely tempted by the Linux variety as it would provide me with the development requirements I’d need and a more suitable test bed (as most running apps/websites/etc. I build run on Linux servers).

So now, 2 and a half years on I’ve finally got round to getting myself one. I lumped for the 901 Linux model which offers a 8.9″ screen in the same overall case size as the 701. It has a 20GB SSD, built in wireless and Bluetooth, SD card slot , 3 USB2.0 ports, a 1.3 mega pixel webcam and a host of other features. The little beauty set me back just over £210 exc. VAT.

Asus Eee PC 901
Asus Eee PC 901

The Physicals

As previously mentioned the 901 comes in the same sized shell as the 701 model but offers a ncie 9.1″ screen giving a 1024×600 resolution. It seems to certainly be bright enough too ( even on the lower brightness settings). The keyboard is small, there’s really no getting away from this. But after practice it seems usable for sure, in fact I’m writing this very article on it whilst travelling back from work on the bus. To be honest though the pot-holes and erratic swerving by the bus driver are making it slightly more difficult than it should be. Overall the kit feels solid; the hinge attaching the screen doesn’t seem to be flimsy at all and everything else most definitely does not echo of a rushed cheap product.

The OS and software

Of course being a fan of open source software (and hardware – see the Arduino board) I opted for the Linux version of the Eee. It comes with Xandros – a debian derivative I think – pre-installed and is setup in an “Easy Mode” which offers nice big buttons for “Internet” and “Email” and the like. The default mode is very simple to use and users could be surfing the net and emailing pretty much straight out the box. I should probably mention that I’ve not yet come across a wireless network I couldn’t use (so far used a Sky connection, my N95 and a couple of hotspots)… though reading up on the net it seems that there are connections out there that perhaps do make life difficult for Eee users.

Other notable software which come with the Linux version include Skype, Star Office, and the Pidgin IM client.

The Performance

With a 1.6 atom powering the little gem it doesn’t seem to suffer at all when wanting to do some basic browsing, word processing or mailing. These tasks are likely to be the primary tasks undertaken on my Eee… with perhaps the odd movie viewed and maybe even some development (I’ve yet to see how it copes with the Eclipse IDE which I use for my Android work).

There are three “performance” options available from the system tray which include “Power Saving”, “High Performance” and “Super Performance” as well as an “auto” option which chooses the mode depending on whether or not you’re running the Eee under battery power. If you’re watching a video clip or film then I suggest not using the “Power Saving” mode as this appears to make the images a bit juddery.

The Battery

So far battery life seems good. With the wireless on I get about 5 hours (though not using it much) and as a (yes, pretty large) MP3 player I got more like 8 hours. In fact at present I’ve been typing for about 30 minutes with the wireless off and I’ve used 6%..

The bottom line

I’m overjoyed with how good this little puppy is so far. I have made some few tweaks to be fair (like enabling the full desktop mode, removing some unwanted packages and installing some more software) but this is of course one of the plus-points of the Linux system. I’ll be detailing how I performed these tweaks in later posts… so keep ’em peeled.

T-Mobile Android G1 – First Thoughts

My G1 arrived just before Christmas (in fact just 1 day after my Birthday) after many, many months of pestering work to order me one. To say I was excited would be an understatement (Yes, I am a self confessed geek), the thought have having such an open device really was blowing me away.

T-Mobile Android G1
T-Mobile Android G1

For those that don’t know the T-Mobile Android G1 was the first released mobile device which runs the open Android operating system (developed by Google). The OS is open source which essentially means that all the code monkeys out there can dig right into the device and develop applications for it to their hearts content. The G1 hardware wise is actually a branded HTC device. HTC prior to this move are probably most famed for their Windows Mobile handsets such as the MDA/XDA ranges.

Anyhoo, back to my first thoughts…

Form Factor

Lots of folks think the G1 isn’t a pretty phone… perhaps they’re right, but to be honest I’m not one of them. And after much much use I actually think the phone is nice and well built. The sliding full qwerty keyboard is extremely usable and feels solid. The small angled portion of the phone helps it sit nicely in my pockets too. It doesn’t seem to big or fat even. One thing that does bug me however is the fact that one handed use is a tough. I don’t think I put this down to the fact that I have small hands but just that the “back” or “return” button is too far left to reach with your left thumb. This small niggle could be resolved by adding a “soft” button to the OS and applications… and given that this phone appears to be a developer’s dream it’s probably not long before this starts to appear.

The battery is poor… there’s no denying it. It would get me through a day of modest use with certain precautions taken like turning off bluetooth, WLAN and turning down the screen brightness but this seems absurd when I think that my old SE P910 would last for days even with extreme use levels. A fair point maybe the use of 3G which is known to be a real battery drainer and has plagued other handsets such as Nokia’s N95.

One thing that does really bother me about the G1 is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone socket. As someone who doesn’t want to have an MP3 (or OGG) player as well as my phone this is a real pain in the derrier. Adapters are available but that’s not really the point.

I suppose that I should make it clear that the hardware for me is certainly at the bottom of my thoughts when I talk about the G1… so lets move on and you’ll find out why.

The Goods

Because of the G1’s open-ness the “Market” (Android’s sister to the iPhone App Store) was full of applications very soon after the phone’s launch. Scores of developers had been using the Android SDK to make all sorts of pieces of software (many useful, many not so much) that could be downloaded directly to the phone. The open-ness also meant that many of the core phone features could be accessed by these developers… things such as the GPS, WLAN, contacts and SMS are all available to be used. Another key benefit that the Android OS offers is that internal architecture is extremely flexible and expandible. Basically if there’s something you don’t lke about any of the software (including the pre-installed apps from Google such as their Contacts applicaation) then these can be re-written and replaced.

The Bads

At the moment there’s only a couple of things I don’t like about the G1 when it comes to the OS and software, these being the lack of Outlook syncing, Bluetooth being limited to audio use (I.e. no PIM transfer) and no inbuilt support for using the phone as a modem. What we have to remember here is that these are (hopefully) only short-term issues thanks to the Android OS (in fact some clever folks have already come up with a tethering work around). Another point to remember is that support for “paid for” applications in the Market Place should be available in the first quarter of 2009 and that a whole host of offerings including an ActiveSync application should be available very soon after.

Android Logo
Powered by Android

The Bottom Line

It’s amazing… yes it is. The G1 itself has a few faults – which I quite happily forgive it for – but this I suppose isn’t what I think is amazing. It is in fact the Android OS that creates a whole world of possibilities. If you don’t like the look of the G1 then don’t worry, they’ll be scores of Android powered terminals coming out over the next year and I’m sure they’ll be one that you’ll feel happy about getting out in the pub.

Google Chrome… and the corporate environment

So today Google announced that their browser Chrome was out of beta… sadly they appeared to have missed one of the primary complaints of the earlier versions which was that the installer has to connect back to the internet to download supporting files. This is all fine apart from if you’re behind a proxy that requires authentication… and this is a very real situation for many corporate users.

Chrome Logo
Google Chrome

A quick search on the net revealled that many users are already complaining about this (and many actually raised this during the beta phase too). There is, at least I don’t think there is, anyway of installing behind a proxy. I hate to say it but this time Google seem to have missed a trick.

New iGoogle Rant

This is not going to be a long and exhaustive review of the update to iGoogle but more of a quick “these things annoy me lots” rant… apologies.

The new iGoogle
The new iGoogle

The update supports a few added features along with the option to have a full canvas view of a single gadget but these are not the simple changes which bug me. These are:

  1. I generally have a few gadgets minimised to allow me more gadgets on the one page. For example I generally have my gMail gadget minimised and only open it when I know I have a new mail and quickly wan to see who it’s from. The problem now is that there is no longer an “expand”/”maxmize” button on each gadget heading… I now have to click into the menu of that gadget and click again to alter the display (minimized or not).
  2. The old “tab bar” has now been moved to a sidebar on the left hand side… this takes up a great deal more of my screen real-estate and to be honest really is a waste. I would have thought that keeping the tabs across the top is a much better use of space especially when the whole idea (or at least I thought it was) of iGoogle is to have as much useful stuff in one place.
  3. Along with each feed title you use to be able to view more info (the excerpt or summary if you will) by clicking on the button associated with that particular item. This has now been removed and by default all of these summaries are visible. This is once again not allowing me to have the quick “snap-shot” of the web that I used to.

So that’s it… rant over. And of course I do expect to be eating my own words once I realise that the benefits of the new iGoogle far out-weigh by petty complaints.