Guesting on Modules Unraveled Podcast

At Headscape we were recently contacted by Brian Lewis from Modules Unraveled Podcast to see if we would like to appear on the show to discuss our use of Drupal.

It was really great to have a chat with Brian and there were a few questions sent in by Twitter users who were watching the live stream.

You can listen to episode 90 on the Modules Unraveled website.

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Moving on from the MBA to Headscape

I have been working for The Marine Biological Association for close to five years now but the time has come to move on. I’m very proud to say I will be working for Headscape where I’m sure I will learn lots and continue to progress as a developer.

In the five years since I started the web and my skills have progressed exponentially. It’s been fun and nostalgic to talk about the early days and see how far the sites and applications have come since I began working with the MBA.

As with all good work places it’s not only the work but the people who make it special and I made some excellent friendships that I’m sure will continue.

I’m certain that this will continue to be the case in my new endeavors with Headscape.

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Smashing Node.JS Review

The short review would be “what a brilliant book”.

I had tinkered with Node.js before but in a bit of an  unstructured fashion. Reading the table of contents had me impressed then seeing the price for the Kindle version confirmed the deal. There is a lot of information here for very little money, around £7.50.

The book begins with an introduction to Node and setting it up. There are also some details about the difference between browser JavaScript and some APIs used by node.

We then move onto using Node for a command line app and then communicating over HTTP. With the slid foundations set the third section introduces some modules that will help us build actual websites.

The fourth section enhances the web apps ideas by introducing different databases, not just by name but by structure. Including MySQL and NoSQL such as MongoDB.

The final section shows how we can really use the code once use everywhere philosophy by allowing JS written for Node to also be executed in the browser. Then finally a chapter on testing to ensure our apps will behave as expected.

The book introduces the code in easy to understand segments and then often refactors this further into the chapter. This gave the examples a “real world” feel and helped show some best practices and why they should be used in that way.

There are also some nice interactions with other APIs such as the classic example of Twitter as well as Grooveshark.

If you are interested in getting started with Node.js or have just begun your learning and are seeking a more structured learning format I highly recommend  Smashing Node.js.

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Shop Talk Answer

I recently discovered Shop Talk, a live web design and development podcast by Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert. So I’ve been listening to the old episodes and in episode 9 with Ethan Marcotte. Andy Howells from the UK asked a question ,which is 15:38 into the episode.

He asked about an eCommerce site that could have twenty four additional images of a product and rightly expressed concerns about page load speed on mobile devices over slow network connections.

As I was listening I had the idea that this could quite easily be solved by just having one main image on the product page and then a link to view more images of the product. This could then be enhanced to load the additional images in using AJAX. The user clicks a link that pulls in the extra images and then displays them on the current page.

Another step could be to load an additional six or twelve images then the customer could continue loading more images until they have seen them all. Waiting for twenty four images to load could still be very slow even if the user has consciously chosen to perform this action.

The Downsides?

From an SEO perspective the reduction of images on the page means a reduction of alt tags with the product name. I feel this is probably a very small hit but if anyone knows different please let me know. The product name should be appearing in the body copy as a description and title etc which should provide the majority of your “SEO juice”.

On larger screens only seeing one image could reduce the visual impact when a user first sees the page. This could be overcome by triggering the AJAX request to fire when the page loads and a media query over a certain size is present. Using Modernizr this would look something like

if(Modernizr.mq('all and (min-width: 768px)')) {
    loadExtraImages('/extra-images.php?product_id=1234');
}

Here is where the issues gets a little grey as we are assuming that a user on a larger screen has a better internet connection when it might actually be the case that someone has a large screen and only a dial up connection but a small screen device is connected to a high speed WiFi connection. If anyone knows of a good way to test bandwidth to replace the above media query test above please leave a comment.

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I’m off to Future of Web Apps 2012

This year I’m lucky enough to be attending Future of Web Apps London 2012. I’ve been to Future of Web Design before and found it hugely inspirational so I have expectations for it’s more technical sibling.

I’m looking forward to

Jeffrey Zeldman – Obviously a major influence in the web world and I’ve heard he is an amazing speaker.

Bruce Lawson – I’ve seen Bruce speak at FOWD and he is very engaging as a speaker and I admire his honesty and openness on standards.

Lorna Jane Mitchell – Not only am I interested in her API talk I also get to attend the API workshop with her. APIs are something I’ve been looking at and working with a lot more recently so the chance to pick the brains of someone as accomplished as Lorna is a fantastic opportunity.

Andrew Appleton – I’ve also been looking a lot more into the many JavaScript MV* frameworks lately so Andrew’s talk regarding Backbone.js is of interest to me.

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A little work for Sugar Shoes

A recently got to do a small bit of work with an old friend from university. We both did the Surf Science & Technology course at Plymouth Uni and have since independent got into the world of building websites.

Made By Richard had a client, Sugar Shoes, using Tradingeye e-commerce platform. I’d never used Tradingeye before and found the documentation a bit sparse .

I only had to implement functionality to change the text on the homepage as well as upload new images for an image slider on the homepage and with a bit of poking around I got my head around how the system work.

It was great to work with Richard and I really like his design style. He’s an easy going guy and I’d like to recommend him for your web design needs. Check out his new look portfolio at www.madebyrichard.me/

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Designing For Emotion by Aarron Walter review

Designing For Emotion by Aarron Walter and published by A Book Apart was a great read with some compelling case studies and examples and on how and when to use emotional design elements.

All release by A Book Apart and short, sharp and too the point. This release is no exception and once I began reading I was hooked and finished it off within a couple of days. The writing style is enjoyable and educational with a sprinkle of dry wit where appropriate.

Probably my favourite section was on Design Personas and they are something I will be implementing on some upcoming projects in the New Year. Aaarron also provides a great download form his own website containing a template for a design persona as well as the completed version from his work on the great MailChimp application.

My only complaint is that the book focuses on the fun elements of emotional design, such as MailChimp’s mascot. Whilst Aarron does take the time to point out that you wouldn’t use this fun style design for a serious application such as online banking I would love to have read more about how the techniques can be varied for more serious applications.

Overall another highly recommended book.

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Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski review

Do web developers really take holidays? Or are our breaks from the day job just an opportunity to catch up on some reading and tinker with some side projects? We haven’t even hit Christmas Day and I’ve managed to finish off two books I’ve had on the go, this one and PHP Master: Write Cutting-Edge Code from SitePoint.

On to business, I love the A Book Apart releases and this one is no different. Luke Wroblewski is always posting little nuggets of mobile statistics and tips on his website so I was very keen to read a whole book from him.

The book logically steps through

  • some stats on why you should be concerned with mobile
  • how it differs from normal desktop browsing
  • how we should embrace the constraints of small screen
  • how this simplicity can in turn benefit the desktop site
  • how to design mobile / small screen layouts

There are lots of helpful little tips throughout the book but one of the main points I took away came right at the end. Luke assures us that mobile is changing at a very very fast pace and will continue to do so. As such we should not worry about being on top of all the changes as it is almost impossible. Instead focus on implementing changes and techniques where you can and accept that there will soon be something new that you could not have predicted or included.

You can pick up the book in paperback, ebook or a bundle of the both from A Book Apart.

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PHP Master: Write Cutting-Edge Code review

SitePoint’s latest PHP book is aimed at taking your skills to the next level. Looking through the contents there was several tools and techniques I was already using but also lots of others that I would like to start using.

Each of the sections provides a general good introduction with some examples and links to similar tools or further reading. The book finishes by recommending that you implement the techniques / tools over a period of time, e.g. begin using version control then in a few months use a coding standard. I thought this was a particularly good point as I can see it would be very easy to get enthusiastic and try and implement version control, coding standards, documentation, profiling etc straight away.

My only slight annoyance with the book is that it is very heavily *nix orientated where as my current role involves a Windows network and as such I mainly work on Windows. But this is a very small detail and I’m well aware that I’m actually in the minority and the extra effort involved in creating Windows examples would be ridiculously time consuming and make the book unecessaraly long, and bump the price up.

This is another book I’d highly recommend and I’m sure there are a lot of developers who can benefit from a well structured book on writing cutting edge code.

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I’ve got an Arduino kit

I recently found out about Arduino an open-source electronics prototyping platform – as described on the website.

It’s basically a circuit board which can have components connected to it and then “sketches” can be uploaded to the board to control how it operates. The basics, which I am working through this Christmas, are controlling LEDs but if you have a Google or YouTube there are some really impressive projects.

I’ve never really dabbled with electronics before but this looks a lot of fun. There is a project to control your garage door with iOS. There are also numerous examples of connecting to the board over a network so I’d love to combine some web work or iOS work with Arduino.

Starter kits can be found online pretty cheap and there are plenty of good tutorials around as well.

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