What’s happening?

Twitter logoI couldn't be more excited about my next move. I'm joining the design team at Twitter!

I can think of no other product with which I've built such a relationship, or use so frequently. Twitter is clearly a huge deal – it feels like it's being woven into the very fabric of the web and beyond, and is totally revolutionising mass, instant, and shared communication. As Mike Davidson (their VP of Design) so perfectly summed up, Twitter is "one of the most important information platforms in the world."

I opened my Twitter account when the number of people tweeting barely reached five figures, and seeing it evolve from mundane early tweets to today's tweets, which are disrupting entire industries, winning elections, helping topple oppressive regimes, and literally saving lives – has been amazing.

I can't wait to  see  help shape how it develops.

I'll miss working with the amazing folk at GDS, creating GOV.UK. From the simple beginnings of Alphagov with a dozen of us in a disused government office that we even had to furnish ourselves, to the 200-strong team now at the heart of government, leading the charge on the public sector digital revolution, winning awards, and saving £42m of taxpayer's money to-date… what an adventure! Thanks for the exciting times, and may you have many more ahead. As GDS' illustrious leader might say: Onwards!

PS – see you on Twitter.

Update: I've just blogged about my time in government, over on the GDS blog.

Uppercase, lowercase

Did you know that the origin of the words uppercase and lowercase dates back to the early days of the printing press? Individual letters were stored in compartmentalised cases. The more commonly used 'small' letters were kept in the lower case, within easy reach of the typesetter. The capitals and accented letters were kept in the upper case – a little further to reach because they weren't required as often.

Cases of type

Cases of type at Ditchling Museum.

Farewell Brighton, my old friend

We moved to Brighton in 2003, and on 3rd July 2010, we move away. Our youngest chap, just past his first birthday, has frequently been pretty poorly and childcare for sick children doesn’t come cheap. So our family is moving to Wokingham in the home counties, closer to my wife's parents, so we can continue to work in the industry we love, and bring up our children in the best way we know how.

It’s a wrench. We moved here, got married here, bought a house here, had two kids here, and have many lovely friends here, and Brighton is a place we love deeply.

But there are positives to moving away – our eldest will hopefully attend my wife's old school and we have found a lovely house on the same road as her childhood home, with a garden and a fantastic large home office which I'll need now that I've left Clearleft.

What the area lacks in Big City attractions and beaches it makes up for in small-town charm and countryside. It's very near Reading and it's just as close to London, both of which hold UX contracting opportunities for me. And it's only an hour and a half from Brighton – so plenty of chance to keep in touch with friends, and even meet up with old ones more often.

So au revoir, Sussex. It’s been emotional.

PS – if you're in the Reading area and need an experienced UX Designer on a freelance or contract basis, please get in touch. I'm fully booked in July, but currently have some availability in August.

"I could care less" is just wrong

Just a quick note about something that really annoys me from time to time. People who say "I could care less" to mean they don't care. I'm not being in any way anti-American, but this grammatical quirk has developed only in American-English, and is not present in British-English. I'm not just saying it's bad-English; this phrase in particular has exactly the opposite meaning to what is intended.

Let's assume that I don't care about something at all. That would mean I care a zero amount about it. I could NOT care any less than zero about it. I couldn't care less.

On the other hand, if I do care about something, then you could say that I care more than a zero amount about it. If I'm caring more than zero about it, I could care less.

So if you say "I could care less" then that means that you do care. If you mean to say that you don't care, you need to say "I couldn't care less".

That concludes today's English lesson!

Are there any nonsensical common phrases that you find annoying? Please leave a comment below.

Did you like this post? Then you may also like my new post about the misuse of the word "humble".

UPDATE (May 2010) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om7O0MFkmpw

Misplaced helpfulness

richardr has a photo of Broadcasting House on Flickr. His photo is titled "White City". That would be an easy mistake to make since they're both BBC buildings, so I left a comment simply saying the photo seemed to be mis-titled White City, rather than Broadcasting House. I thought I was being helpful. He replied by private message:

Your rudeness Before you leave patronising comments on other accounts you might care to read the comments trail explaining why a particular title has been chosen.

I'm surprised that he'd consider my comment to be patronising, and slightly offended that he'd title his reply "Your rudeness" and block me on Flickr! Talk about over-reaction! I get comments like "DUNB CUNT GO SUK UR MOMS MILK NOOB" daily on YouTube (that particular gem was left for me yesterday) and I don't respond at all.

I admit I didn't read the 350-word essay he'd left in the photo comments, which now that I look explains in depth why the photo is titled as such. But I wouldn't say it's uncommon for people not to read huge swathes of text on a photo sharing website.

Oh well, at least he brought the smile of incredulity to my face. And the chance to trump his over-reaction by blogging about it. I dunno, some people! ;-)

Of course, I wouldn't want to encourage you to leave a similar comment as if you've just stumbled upon it, explaining that he's got the title wrong. That would be bad, and not funny at all of course. *snigger* (if you get there and there are no recent comments, that's because he's deleting each individually - I know at least three people have commented in the last hour!)

BBC White City Broadcasting House These photos of White City and Broadcasting House are by Stevec77 and Speedwaystar respectively. richardr's photo isn't licenced for me to republish here, unfortunately.

Heinz: men kissing is offensive

In the UK Heinz have pulled a TV ad showing a kiss between two men, after it received over 200 complaints that it was "offensive" and "inappropriate to see two men kissing". The advert shows a morning family routine - dad is getting ready for work whilst mum prepares sandwiches for the children. Because the sandwiches contain Heinz Deli Mayo, "mum" is visually represented by a stereotypical male New Work deli owner for comedic effect.

This advert does not feature a gay couple (as has been misreported in some cases) - it is a metaphor. The joke is that Heinz Deli Mayo makes sandwiches taste as if Mum's kitchen has been transformed into a genuine New York deli.

Seemingly a fraction of the population didn't understand that, and Heinz apparently agree with them that a parody situation where a man gives another man a goodbye peck before heading to work is offensive. That being the case, it rather strongly implies that they would consider any kind of genuine homosexuality to be even "worse"!

If offending 200 people causes them concern, I think they've just hit a PR disaster by offending the entire gay community. Not to mention straight people like myself who are offended that Heinz took the opinion of 200 bigoted complainers to be representative of the views of the entire nation. Wake up Heinz - this is 2008, not 1908!

Heinz has invited us to write a message to them, and I invite you to leave a comment here with your thoughts.

Bush admits to lying over Iraq

I'm no political blogger, but I do take a mild interest in the blunderings of George W. Bush for pure entertainment value and just in case he accidentally presses the big red button when he's meaning to call for a pizza. Today I stumbled upon a Huffington Post article quoting Dubya's recent speech about the latest developments in Iraq:

War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq, so now they argue the war costs too much.” President Bush - March 19, 2008.

As you can see from the second part of the sentence, Bush is trying to attack the methods of war critics. I include that just for context, but it is of no importance to the following point.

Taking just the first part of the sentence, Bush is clearly saying that up until now there has been credibility to the argument that the US Army is losing in Iraq. Which to me reads as an admission that each time he's assured the world of their success for the last four years, he knew it was a lie.

The Huffington Post has the man's incompetence in full.

Please click here to comment on this article.

Vintage Ladybird books as retro notepads

Vintage Ladybird book notepad My wife has been busy crafting in the lead-up to Christmas, making all sorts of goodies as gifts - she's really amazingly talented and creative!

One idea which has become a bit of a hit this year are the vintage Ladybird books which she's been rescuing from charity shops, dissecting, and binding with notepaper to create these unique retro Ladybird book notebooks. As well as a handy place to write your thoughts, the note paper is inter-leaved with the original Ladybird book pages for added nostalgia.

Each one is painstakingly handmade from the original second-hand Ladybird book, and finished with an appropriately coloured length of elastic to hold it shut and keep your secrets safe inside.

These Ladybird book notebooks make ideal Christmas presents, and best of all they're available today from stupidgorgeous.co.uk!

Update: Even Vintage Ladybird books themselves are fans! They added Relly as a friend when she posted pictures of the notebooks to the Vintage Ladybird Books Flickr group.

Do petrol pumps pinch my pennies?

There's been a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind several times recently, when refuelling my car. At the petrol pump I fill up to, say, £15.00. But by the time I reach the cashier, it mysteriously costs me £15.01. The first few times I let this go without a second thought. Fair enough, it's easy to misjudge and not spot the pump ticking over that extra penny. But tonight my suspicions were raised. I caught a glimpse of the cashier's screen, and every person who had refuelled had a total price of £XX.01.

Could petrol stations really be stealing 1 penny from every customer? Some may notice, but 1 penny isn't worth complaining about.

But in the course of a day, if this speculation were to contain any truth, the petrolium companies would be stealing thousands of pounds straight from our wallets.

Has anybody had similar experiences? Please leave your comment at the bottom of the page.

Wilkinson Plus Hardware Store: a terrible customer service experience.

A week and a half ago we moved to our new flat with a lovely garden, ideal for Toby's first birthday party last weekend. So as soon as we moved in we ordered a gazebo from Wilkinson Hardware Store's online shopping site, Wilkinson Plus, to provide a little shelter for the festivities. They said it should arrive by courier within two working days, so assuming the order was processed on Monday we should have received it by Wednesday, in plenty of time for Saturday's party. By Friday it still hadn't turned up, and aside from the original confirmation email we had heard nothing from Wilkinson, so I gave them a call. It turns out that although they had the correct shipping address in the confirmation email, they'd managed to send it to our billing address (our old flat). The new tenant then gave them a wrong phone number for us, so they "couldn't" get in touch to arrange re-delivery (despite having both our email address and correct telephone number on the original order). All this wouldn't be such a problem if it weren't for the fact that we'd ordered it specifically for Toby's birthday party!

A very helpful lady called Keira in their call centre accepted that it was their fault, and was very apologetic. She promised to refund the delivery cost and give us a third off the price of the gazebo, and looked into ways of getting a delivery to us in time for Toby's birthday. The nearest Wilkinson store with stock was 46 miles away in Epsom, and she proposed getting it taxi'd from the store to us at their expense. She called the Epsom store, but I was told the store manager was unwilling to take the expense of such a long taxi trip (a cost he could later claim back from the web department, and which they had already approved)*. There was no other way of getting it to us in time.

I explained that this was an opportunity for them to turn what was essentially a really bad customer experience for me into an example of great customer service. I'd be telling the story one way or the other, so it'd really go in their favour if I had a positive story to tell. Unfortunately they didn't want to take that opportunity so I was left with no gazebo for Toby's first birthday, and Wilkinson Plus accepting responsibility and with the ability to correct it in time, but, at the whim of one store manager*, refusing to do so because of their own internal procedure.

In a further development, Wilkinson had arranged re-delivery for us today (Wednesday) and my wife changed her plans so that she could definitely be in to sign for it. I called Kiera to check that it was definitely being delivered today and she chased up their chosen courier, Amtrak. Keira was once again very apologetic, as it turns out that now it's Amtrak's turn to mess up, and they haven't got it out for delivery today, but will try to get it out to us tomorrow.

Incompetence all round. We're not holding our breath. But we are holding a housewarming party this Saturday, and they've still got two business days to get it to us.


UPDATE Thursday July 5th - I called Keira again today to check that its definitely on its way. It had been arranged that Amtrak would deliver it today but if we weren't in they would leave it in the back garden. The decided that they didn't want to have to leave it in the garden, so they didn't even pack it on the delivery truck in case we were in! The ineptitude of these companies is unbelieveable.


UPDATE Friday July 6th, morning - The gazebo has finally arrived. Thanks to Kiera for being very helpful, apologetic, and friendly all week. Its a shame the order fulfillment ability of your employer, and the customer service skills of the Epsom store manager aren't up to your standards.


UPDATE Friday July 6th, afternoon - Debbie, a manager from Wilkinson Plus, called to apologise and to say that they would be sending a letter of apology and some vouchers in the post to make up for the inconvenience.


* I've now been told that this was incorrect information given to me at the time. The decision not to send the gazebo by taxi was not taken by the Epsom store manager, but was made at the customer service centre. No alternative explanation for the decision was given, although once the gazebo was delivered it was apparent that it wouldn't have fitted into a standard sized car anyway (they hadn't realised this when they'd offered to taxi it out).

User-centred design and traffic cones

To most, I'm a Web Designer. Within the industry, my job title is the more niche "User Experience Designer". That means it's my job not only to design websites, but to ensure the experience of using them is a pleasant and easy one. Part of my role includes labelling: choosing which words get used for which tasks to make a message easier to understand. For instance, I'd never put a "submit" button at the end of a contact form (its a very techy and unfriendly word), my button would say something more personable and hopefully easier for everyone to understand, like "send it now". (my friend Stuart has pointed out to me that the comments form on this very blog has a 'submit' button. my excuse? I've used a pre-made template for this website, as I'm such a web design perfectionist that my own design for the site is in its fifth iteration and I'm so far not happy enough with it to launch it!!)

This is a practice which should be applied in many offline situations too, and it was whilst driving to Lewes today that I noticed what appalling labelling we have on UK road works signs.

First, I spotted "Adverse camber" and wasn't exactly sure what it meant. I knew the camber is the shape of the road, usually curving up to the middle. Since the traffic was being channelled across to the 'wrong' side of the road, I assumed the camber would become opposite to normal... but I wasn't sure that's what the sign meant. My passenger, an English Language graduate, expected 'adverse' to mean difficult (from a slightly inaccurate definition of 'adversity'). In actual fact, there was very little change in the road surface so the sign wasn't even needed. But if it had been, perhaps a better wording would be "road tips to right".

Secondly, I saw some sort of crane bearing the warning "Caution: operatives in road". Why "operatives"? Why not the more common (and less confusing) "operators", or (the much less confusing) "men". Presumably, in today's world of political correctness they can't say "men". But in a potentially dangerous situation where the safety of your workers depends on a message being conveyed to drivers quickly and clearly, "men in road" could be life-savingly faster to understand than "operatives in road".

For more on this topic, read "Airport User Experience”, a blog post by Andy Budd.

Catch-up and redirects

My baby boy is now 5 months old, and the fact that I haven't blogged since his birth is almost rude. He'd be offended, if he knew how. Truth be told, life is far too hectic to be blogging when there are nappies to change, babies to feed, and sleep to catch up on. But 5 months in and I'm ready to write again. I had thought of creating a "new father's blog" to document the first months of Toby's life, but the first two I clicked when I Googled for others were abandoned, probably also through lack of time. At least that makes me feel less bad.

Andy is always talking about blogging as part of my job, so that's now how I intend to justify the time I spend on it.

My next few entries will cover some of the things I've been meaning to blog about but haven't had time.

*IMPORTANT NOTE FOR FEED READER USERS* - I've moved my RSS feed to Feedburner, and all the necessary redirects are in place so you shouldn't really have to do anything. Fingers crossed that this reaches you OK!

Battle of Who Could Care Less

One of the things which sticks in my mind about the first time I stayed at my then future-wife's flat in Bristol is the pile of unsorted CDs and empty cases which were strewn haphazardly around her stereo. I couldn't understand how anybody could take such little care - not just because of the damage they could suffer but also out of convenience. I have hundreds of CD albums, and when Relly and I met they were all on my CD shelves, alphabetised by artist. She says I'm anal - life's too short to arrange the CD collection like this, but I say life's too short NOT to. I don't want to spend hours searching for a particular CD.

Of course, now that all the music's in iTunes and on the iPod there's no argument. I've stopped fighting The Battle of the Alphabetised CD Collection.

These days all our CDs just take up space. Maybe they'd look nicer sorted by colour.

Counting down the days

Almost all my free time at the moment is dedicated to preparing our house for baby's arrival. Although we're both really looking forward to it, the realisation of how much we have yet to do is quite worrying. The only thing this weekend which justified a break from the chores was the return of the Cybermen on Doctor Who. If there was something not to be missed, I thought that would be it. Last year the Daleks made a triumphant return, last month saw K9's reasonably welcome reappearance, but Saturday's Rise of the Cybermen was a disappointment. Particularly so after last week's episode (The Girl in the Fireplace) was the best yet. David Tennant makes a brilliantly comedic Doctor.

The Doctor: "It's a temporal hyperlink!" Mickey: "What's one of them?" The Doctor: "No idea. Just made it up. Didn't want to say 'magic door'."

Our work-horse of a 2001-model digital camera now rarely switches to 'record' mode, so can't be relied upon for Baby's precious first moments. Unfortunately a replacement is not as high up the shopping list as other more vital baby-related purchases such as some flooring for the nursery, so I'm charging my DV camera as that also takes stills. The writing of the baby shopping list is "mummy's" responsibility. It's she who must remain stress-free during pregnancy so only she who knows what will help her achieve that (though another pair of Rocketdogs will likely raise my suspicions).

As this will be our first baby, it's both exciting and scary at the same time. Each time we're asked "how long until the baby" it seems to get rapidly shorter. This peaked when we no longer counted the time remaining in months, but started counting in weeks (two months became 8 weeks, then 7 etc.). Yesterday we switched from counting the weeks to counting the days.

Clear me a desk if there's one left

My new desk space, Clearleft's office

(apologies for the atrocious title on this entry)

Yesterday I started sharing office space with Clearleft, one of the web design agencies who I regularly freelance for.

Since leaving Harrods.com to be my own boss I've been working from my home office, apart from the short times I spent away consulting on web projects for BT and IBM. With a baby due any time I imagine that it would get increasingly difficult to concentrate on getting things done at home, so the move to an office is A Good Thing.

Obviously when the little one is born I'll be taking a couple of weeks off from work to get to know him, as this is very important for the bonding process between baby and parents. But apart from that, I'm now full time in my central Brighton office, and it's all very exciting.

I'm looking forward to my time here. It'll be good for us all to have other web designers for company, as we're all pretty used to working alone from our home offices. And what better company for me to have? Clearleft is run by three of the most respected Web Standards experts in the UK, Andy, Rich, and Jeremy. Also sharing the office is Pete, who works for Creative Commons. I definitely got the better end of the deal there, and am grateful for their invitation to office-share. I'm sure we'll all find collaborating on projects much easier by being in the same place.

To celebrate the new office I invested in some new shoes. Not a natural way to celebrate (my wife would disagree), but I saw them and had to have them. Feet, meet Mr Happy.

Please excuse the mess

Big changes are afoot, and amongst other things I made a hasty return to blogging last month. Please avert your eyes from the many things which are currently a bit shabby about this blog. I'll get around to fixing them soon. UPDATE: Feb 2007, moved to Wordpress.

Here's a list of things I should get around to changing. If you spot any other imperfections please leave a comment and I'll add them to the list:

  • The design was rushed and overall I'm not happy with it. It's not well thought out good design, and it's not deliberately simple. Needs attention.
  • I'm keen to try MeasureMap to track traffic around my blog, but it seems to be delayed into Beta. I hope to install it asap.
  • Comment textarea text is too small to read it as you type. Looks like the same can be said of code text too!
  • The 'post' and 'preview' comment buttons have a ? either side of them for some reason.
  • Why not just have a live comment preview?
  • When you post a comment you need to refresh your browser to see it on the page. Is this a known issue with other MovableType blogs? It happens on my wife's and my brother-in-law's too, both of which are on the same installation as this blog.
  • Comments aren't well formatted.
  • Enable Gravatars on comments
  • strong text shouldn't be a different colour to plain text.
  • Perhaps a search function. Live search?
  • The main nav is too spaced out in Internet Explorer.
  • Links to category and date archives have .html on the end. I'd like to get rid of this unneccesary cruft.
  • I should put section headers within the main nav.

No more Travelodge!

Travelodge rooms are bland, unremarkable and expensive (£60/night) with nowhere to eat and no way to get online. Work have found me a lovely period B&B near Thame which has gorgeous rooms (pictured) and comes with a full English breakfast for just £35/night when you book 3 nights or more (although price isn't an issue since work pay).

What's more, for some reason their free wi-fi doesn't allow me to check my work email in the evenings - bonus!