Thursday, June 28, 2007

On The Move

This blog focuses on the work I did during the summer of 2006 with Mike Pinkerton and The Mozilla Foundation.

I am on the move to a self-hosted Wordpress blog at so why don't you join me there?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Congratulations (2007)

I will not be working with the Mozilla Foundation this summer but I will be working with OpenMRS.

I would like to wish Jeff Dlouhy a lot of success this summer working on Tabsposé.

I really new to get a new name and address for my blog.

Dear Applicant,

Congratulations! This email is being sent to inform you that your
application was accepted to take part in the Summer of Code. Please
check your student home page in the SoC web application at to determine which of
your applications was accepted.

Over the next few days, you will be added to a special members only
Google Group
Please take a moment to browse the archive before posting. We prefer
most of the program discussion to take place on the program discussion
list. However, the students list is a private place for communication
about subjects where our student participants prefer to not
communicate the matter more widely. You can find more information
about the program mailing lists here:

Your mentoring organization may also set up similar mailing lists for
you and your cohorts so that they may interact with you on your
project. You should not wait for them; please feel free to contact
your mentor and let them know you are ready to start engaging with
your new project community.

You should also get into the habit of visiting your student home page
on a semi-regular basis, as we will track status, payments, paperwork
and take final surveys from this page.

If you have questions regarding payment, please wait until you see a
message from Leslie Hawthorn detailing what we will need from
you. This will take a few days as we button up the web application and
make sure all the students are properly assigned to the proper groups.

If you cannot take part for some reason, please email us at as soon as possible so that we can allocate your slot
to another student.

Other questions and concerns should be send to

Thanks for taking part; we're very excited to see what the Summer will bring!

Congratulations once again,

The Google Summer of Code Progam Administration Team

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Football Manager 2007: the worst Mac installer ever

I love Football Manager (previously Championship Manager) and the lure of a £29.99 -> £19.99 price cut was just too tempting. It is also worth noting that I am studying for my finals so any temptation is taken!

Football Manager is a Mac/PC double release on the same CD which is really nice and now I get to play it on my Intel Mac which is even better! Football Manager 2006 was a drag and drop installation but 2007 is soo spectacular that I have screenshotted the process to preserve its glory.

Hrm... no drag and drop here... oh my!

Okay, so this opens up a Terminal window which launches a Java application... [you may be interested to know that setup.jar is 434.9MB]

Oh my goodness! Why do the buttons look like that?!

What do you mean choose the installation type? Are those Windows installer icons? What is the refund policy....

It sits like this for a minute and I do wonder what it is doing...

Here we go, some kind of visual feedback. I wonder what the change in colour is meant to signify...

It is all over, phew!

I hope that we all consider this a masterclass in how not to write an installer for a Macintosh application. I would love to know why the person / people who wrote this installer considered it suitable for release.

Are there any other Macintosh application installer nightmares that we should know about?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Summer of Code 07 is on! (go go go)

Google Summer of Code 2007 is on and applications are now being accepted. Mentoring organization applications have been examined and the Open Source Team at Google have published the final list. There are some amazing organizations offering students an opportunity to take part in some fantastic work.


The first thing that you need to do is take a look at the list of organizations that are involved this year. Perhaps you know the organization that you want to apply for but maybe you don't. If you don't then you could do what I have done and look at the ideas link for every project. You can normally understand quite quickly what that organization works on from the projects that they propose.

coresystems GmbH gives away nothing but upon closer inspection it looks like they are interested in people working on an open source BIOS. And we probably would have totally disregarded them if we didn't click the link.

OpenMoko don't give away much in there name either but they are working on an open source mobile platform which is pretty damn cool.

Sparse is a semantic parser. There are even projects tailored to what might be considered academic pursuits on the Summer of Code Program.


If you are seriously interested in applying for a project and you believe that you are capable of undertaking the workload then you should get in touch with the organization through mailing lists or IRC to gauge the mentoring team's interest in your application.

I think that most project coordinators and mentors would agree. They will like to see an application from a name that they recognise. If you show a real interest then it seems reasonable that they are more likely to show a real interest to.

This is probably one of the best ways to determine whether or not your application will be well received. Whether or not you do actually possess the skill set that the organization are looking for is good to find out before you prepare an application. Some organizations are pretty upfront on their sites about what the expect from students this summer. Maybe those organizations got burned last year with incomplete projects or projects that never really gained momentum.

The best thing about Summer of Code is that if you see an organization who have high demands - in your opinion - and only appear to be interested in the delivery of the final code and don't appear to be interested in the experience then you don't need to apply to them. There are loads of organizations!

Of course, I could have this all wrong... perhaps Google are pressuring organizations to only accept students who are pretty much guaranteed to complete their projects. It is difficult to tell when what happens to your application is not in any way transparent after you have submitted it. And so it makes it difficult to understand things from this side of the fence. It would be interesting to hear more about this from the mentoring organizations.


I delivered a presentation to my University on 7th March which can be found here [link removed due to upload problem, will be live again ASAP]. I did not record it live because I didn't want to use too much technology and have a weird crash -- which is 100% more likely when you are live.

About 30 people attended and I think that everybody enjoyed themselves and found my presentation to be informative. I managed to give away all of the schwag that Google gave to me: t-shirts, blinky pins, lava lamps.


I plan to apply for Summer of Code this year with 3 organizations if I have the time. Applying for 3 organizations is pretty ballsy because it demands a lot of effort to write great applications that are tailored. Maybe you don't know how many to apply for or what an application should look like...

If you are considering applying then you can take a look at the application that I submitted for the Mozilla Foundation project that was accepted for last summer. There are loads of organizations that have posted their own guides on what a good application looks like and some of them even show examples of what a good application looked like last year. That is such a great touch from them and it helps people write the best application that they can.

Note the awesome spelling mistake near the start of my application ;-)

I have been asked if I have any advice for people who are applying this year, so here goes:

  1. I repeat, if you are seriously interested in applying for a project and you believe that you are capable of undertaking the workload then you should get in touch with the organization through mailing lists or IRC to gauge the mentoring team's interest in your application
  2. Limit the number of applications that you submit. Quality is much more important than quantity. I imagine that it will be painfully obvious if you copy/paste the body of your application to multiple organizations
  3. Do not over exaggerate your abilities but do not believe that you are not capable of something because you are not a PROGRAMMING ROCK STAR. Summer of Code is a great time to learn new skills as well as use existing skills.
  4. Make sure that the organization that you are applying to work with are suitable for you. Do you like their communication structure / leadership style? Do you think that you could work with the community?
  5. Can you realistically spend 40 hours per week on your project? Most projects have enough depth to require a 40 hours/week commitment, so make sure that you are able to dedicate that amount of time.
I wish everybody the best of luck with their application. You can find me on the Summer of Code IRC channel if you constrict my forename down to one letter and concatenate that with my surname.

If you think that this post might be of interest to others then please let them know about it. I accept comments to my posts but I have moderation enabled to stop spam. I will let through any legitimate comments.

Good luck!

Monday, March 05, 2007

WWDC 2007 Fundraiser

After consulting with several close friends I have decided to announce that I am looking to raise funds through donations to help ease the cost of attending WWDC this year.

I do not want to make any money through these donations, I just want to try to cover the cost of getting to this conference.

Oh, the expense!

The cost of a WWDC ticket is at least £699 although I might be eligible to apply for a scholarship with Apple. I also need to get to California which is a little bit trickier considering that I am from the UK and quite expensive. What about accomodation? Oh my!


I shall be accepting donations of any value through PayPal. I am going to start the ball rolling by adding £122.20 to the target. Every 4 weeks I will add 10% of the remaining amount to the target myself to keep things moving along. I don't expect to get a free ride!

If at any stage the target is reached then any excess shall be donated to The Camino Project and The Adium Project split equally.

What is in it for you?

You might wonder what you'll get in return for your donation? I plan to keep a page listing the patrons who have donated so far and any message that they wish to include - should they want public knowledge of their donation to be announced. Oh, and a feel good factor :-)


I am not really interested in having banner adverts on my blog but if you think that your company could fit in then please get in touch with me.

The WWDC t-shirt

What I am offering companies is the ability to sponsor a t-shirt that I will wear for a day at WWDC. I'll be buying Howies blank t-shirts because I love those guys.

You can get your logo on the front and "[Company name] helped to fund my attendance at WWDC 2007" on the back of the t-shirt. Subtle but effective. You can even dictate the colour or anything in particular that you'd like the t-shirt to say.

There is no suggested donation for companies interested in this opportunity. I suggest that you get in touch with me so we can talk about what we think is reasonable.


Well, they say that you can sell anything on eBay. I know that this is not eBay but if you can sell a million pixels or swap a paper clip for a house then perhaps there might be a few businesses interested in sponsoring a t-shirt to ease the cost of getting to CA; or some generous people who have a few dollars to spare.

I sincerely look forward to meeting anybody who donates to this cause at WWDC or in and around San Francisco in June, or anybody else who cannot donate but will be at WWDC this summer.

You can find the PayPal donate link at the side of the page. This link will be active from Monday 5th March 2007 until Friday 2nd June 2007.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cognitive friction

The integration of technology into our daily lives is accelerating at an alarming pace. There are people with bionic arms that attach to their previously defunct nervous system; you can engage in a video telephone call with anybody in the world using Skype and a webcam; you have an unbelievable wealth of knowledge at your fingertips with the internet.


The internet was supposed to be an amazing breakthrough in technology that would allow people from all over the world to communicate with each other from the comfort of their desks. Google lets you search for anything and Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that has become an indispensible part of our everyday life. There is less of a chance of a Big Brother regime where history is being rewritten by the government but Orwell couldn't have imagined the Internet when he wrote 1984.

The Internet, and technology as a whole has a huge problem - it is not accessible. If you do not have good hearing, good motor skills, good eyesight, or are able to grasp new concepts quickly then the internet is totally useless.

I have good hearing, good motor skills, good eyesight, and I can grasp new technology fairly quickly so I hope that my postulations do not sound pretentious or ill-informed.


Text-to-speech technology is still rather primitive but it does work [note that this is the full video and not the crummy news piece that mocked the work that MS have completed]. It might be useful for text documents but what about reading an article on Wikipedia? There are roughly 100 words surrounding the content of the page that you don't care about and the TTS software is going to have to parse those each time.

The pointing device

The mouse is probably the worst device for people who have recently lost motor control skills - stroke sufferers being a good example; or those who have poor motor skills due to an ongoing disability. This YouTube video is a clip from 1984 demonstrating what it was like to use a mouse for the first time

Fitt's Law dictates that people with acceptable motor skills still take several iterative attempts to reach their destination on a computer dekstop. When will touch-screen technology become common place enough that using a this pointing device with two buttons can be replaced?

What does that mean?

What about people who have difficulties with picking up new ideas? The internet moves at such a whirlwind pace that when they have mastered one user interface paradigm it is already too late.


Who is designing websites for people who want the information presented to them in a clear manner? I read the BBC News website every day. The BBC is a publicly funded TV service in the UK. As such, they have the moral obligation to present their content to every group.

The BBC tries to do its best but it is still difficult to find the Accessibility information. Their webpage is extremely cluttered with hyperlnks everywhere. It is intimidating for anybody who looks at it for the firs time. I suspect that I use reflexive memory to browse their site. I just know where the links are. If you struggled to use a mouse or had poor sight then trying to navigate to the news for your local area then you would be better off listening to the BBC News channel.

If you were not able to mentally parse all of the information available on that page with ease then it would be a nightmare for you. Why don't the BBC offer a simple webpage with News, Sport, and Weather sections?

One click hyper links that clearly present the information on the page for people to see. Why is it difficult to find any information about the accessible services provided by the BBC? You can provide me with news content on my mobile phone but you cannot improve accessible access to your content?

Mac OS X

What about Mac OS X? I recently purchased a new iMac and when I popped in the installation disc I made a phone call and heard the system talking to me to let me know that I could setup the Installer to speak the text back to me. That was a good start but it needs to be much more.

There is a fantastic Systems Preferences Pane where you can turn on text-to-speech or change the size of fonts in the system. If you relied on these system services could you configure them by yourself? Where is the value in having a computer with accessibility options if you cannot configure them independently?

Cognitive friction

All of these issues can be grouped together into something that I've started calling cognitive friction. I imagine that I'm not the first person to coin the term but it is about time the people started to use it.

Do you have microwave that is easy to use? I know that when I had a microwave the options were Low Defrost Medium High Very High. So what? What does those mean relative to the 800W that I need. Look at your TV remote. What the bloody hell do half of those buttons mean? Come on! I've never touched some of the buttons on my TV remote due to fear.

Technology has a lot of answer for in the 21st century. Instead of making everything better why aren't we making existing products easier to use?

Friday, March 02, 2007

The iTunes Store

I made the decision to move from buying CDs to buying my music online through the iTunes Store or Bleep at the beginning of the year.

The iTunes Store sells Kind of Blue for £9.99. A 6 track album should only cost £4.74 but one of the tracks is 'Album Only' which punishes me for wanting to purchase the whole record. Does this not encourage me to illegally download this CD? I want good value for my purchases just like the next person.

I decided to buy the CD from Fopp for £5. I thought that music on the Store was at a fixed price and that Apple didn't want to have tiered pricing for albums?

The iTunes Store left me feeling kind of blue but the old-fashioned record store washed my blues away.