The Magical Orange Bus Tour

With the arrival of my Tier 2 visa (a biometric permit, namely a card that you have to use when travelling along with your passport, I miss having stamped in them) I have finally started working full time as a UX designer at the Newcastle digital design agency Orange Bus. I started there a week or so ago, but as my visa was getting sorted out I carefully adhered to the 20 hours per week allowed on my Tier 4 student visa.

So why Orange Bus? A number of reasons. Firstly, after years in academia I came to the realisation that I missed the buzz and stimulus of studio, as well as the opportunity to learn off others. Also, I’m not properly finished with my PhD as of yet, so was keen to stay in Newcastle so as to keep some continuity (I have to be good and spend my evenings and weekends working on my thesis!).

I’d been made aware of Orange Bus thanks to their head of UX Joanne Rigby, who was active on the Newcastle UX circuit and even been involved in some of their local presentation days. It also helped that they’ve employed international workers in the past (my fellow UXer Sai had to sit out a three month labour shortage time in India, so I’ve had it pretty easy in regards to visas) and could walk me through the process. And to be honest, any studio that has a well used foosball table and Friday afternoon beer o’clock can’t be too bad a place to work at.

Orange Bus Foosball

This isn’t even the most recent table, it got replaced after if fell apart from hard use!

In the short time I’ve been there, I’ve learnt a lot about Google Analytics (even taking the free Google training course—get in quick, it closes on the 30th), email tracking codes, and using Windows 8. I’ve not opened a single MS Office app since I arrived: it turns out that it’s surprisingly easy and effective to use Google Drive for pretty much everything. Well, almost everything: there’s a point where you have to use InDesign for amazing documents. I’m going to be able to be involved in the setting up of a UX Lab as well, which will be pretty exciting.

Their new fangled studio in Milburn House near Central Station is pretty cool as well. One of my first memories of Newcastle when I arrived in 2010 was in fact with Milburn House: there was an architecture tour and we nearly got locked in the building! It’s interesting from an architectural perspective as its past as a maritime building reveals itself in the floor numbering system: rather than having 1,2,3, the lifts show levels A-F just as you would have in a ship.

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a lot of companies in Newcastle advertising to hire designers, UXers, and developers. I suspect that people have no idea that it’s not ‘grim up North’ at all: in fact the digital industry is thriving and employees are thriving too on the cheap and cheerful cost of living that’s made the area a favourite student city.

So, I’m looking forward to my experiences ahead with Orange Bus. And remember, if you ever ask me what I’m doing in the evenings or weekends, remind me that the proper answer should in fact be “working on my thesis”….

[EDIT] I thought that the closest song to the company’s name was the famous Beatles song. However, it’s been usurped—it turns out there’s a fun rock ditty (I say ditty as the band have probably forgotten the lyrics now) called “Magic Orange Bus”. Thank you Youtube!

Dr Whoovian Coder: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Github (and Javascript)

Whenever I do side projects, I attempt to figure out something important that I want to learn from them. For example, it might be that I want to play with my PHP (as with the Fauxcodesign site), making sticky nav one page sites (the Mozilla love-letter) or messing around with Mediawiki (the similar one for the Wikimedia foundation). Anyway, for my recent projects I had two initiatives I wanted to achieve:

  1. Make interaction using plain javascript (or with some jQuery if pushed). I’d been asked in the past as to whether I could do this, and had to evasively answer “well, I haven’t done it, but I can do it since I’ve worked with Actionscript 2.0 and PHP). Time to change that.
  2. Get using Github for hosting. I’d been meaning to use some form of version control, and was also keen to allow for my work to be viewed and built on if need be.

And I needed to find a fun project. I got two.

Doctor Who Lorem Ipsum generator

I know that there’s more lorem ipsum generators than you can shake a stick at, but I’d noticed that even those few Doctor Who related ones were pretty superficial. What’s more, they missed a quirk particular to Doctor Who: that the 11 regenerations have strikingly different personalities, to the point that people might love one Doctor (generally 4 or 10) and dislike others (sadly 6 and 7 get a lot of flack, unfairly I think). So my generator would allow you do make lorel ipsum with your favourite Doctor or a mix of them.

Finding quotes was a matter of looking through various sources. Then to Github to fork a project. The easiest one I found was Flatiron. However, I had to tweak it as it was based on making random sentences rather than paragraphs with existing quotes.

I sourced images from DeviantArt. I was aware that this is a little dicey (I wish the site had creative commons licences as per Flickr), but covered myself by doing three things:

  1. Consoling myself that my site didn’t make any money (there are no ads on it!)
  2. Credited the artists on the site
  3. Reached out to them on the DA pages and let them know I’d used the images and would take them down if it was a problem. (The TARDIS creator was thrilled by it! ).

Tardis Deviantart

I remember messing around with Github when it started, but was put off by it being command-line only. It’s now got a GUI client … but at present only for 10.7. There’s *nothing* free if you’re on Snow Leopard (Github say they see no point in supporting it). Thankfully I’d grabbed a version of their client when they did, and copied it from my Macbook to my iMac.

Version control is a wonder. (I did know this as I worked on a project with Mercurial, but it was also command line only at the time). It’s nice to know that you can make changes, and revert, and that your local code is backed up on a server. I am going to see whether these instructions can help me set up a push to my live sites, but at present I just manually upload changes to the sites.

UX extraordinaire and fellow Whovian Martin Belam also pointed out a few hints on setting things up to show up nicely on Facebook and Twitter (I had no idea about twitter cards), so thanks to him too.

The final result is at doctoripsum.com (thanks to my trusty wordsmith-designer friend Louise Taylor for the advice on the title!). And for anyone who wants to roll their own, the code is up on Github.

The Final Doctor Ipsum

The Final Doctor Ipsum

I got some lovely comments about the site along the way.

So, I had a nice JS site for lorel ipsum. Then the 12th Doctor was announced.

Doctor’o’Clock

Inspired by a tweet about telling time in Doctors,

I decided to try and quickly throw together a clock of, yes, the 12 Doctors. I already had images of 11. (I pulled out the Wacom and made a semi-passable one of 12). Again, I went to online to see what was available in regards to clocks. There were two different options, but I went for the one where I understood the javascript better.

I did hand code the digital and writing parts of the site to show names and time (it’s not easy to deal with the quirks of time without a lot of if statements), though this was a lot easier to get my head around thanks to the clock.

You can see that result hiding under the top level at doctoripsum.com/doctor-o-clock/. And again, the code on Github.

Doctor o Clock (10 past Tennant)

Doctor o Clock (10 past Tennant)

 

Update: March 2014

Thanks to their being both Capaldi’s Doctor and the War Doctor, I now don’t have the perfect line up of 2×6 doctors and the TARDIS. Never mind. I have had a few more lovely comments:

And even a bit of noteworthiness in the blogs (OK, one magazine style article, but still).

Having—and Using—an Online Basement

As I see more and more people tweeting, blogging, and having websites that are little more than redirects to external profiles, a little part of me has a sad.

sad-cat

You see, I miss the days of people having their own websites and experimenting with them. Remember once-upon-a-forest and Praystation? And all of those weird Flash experiments (back when it was Macromedia Flash) that you’d read about in books and then fervently look up on your dial-up connection? It seems to me like they’re happening a lot less now (though I will admit that a fair bit happens on Hacker News, god bless their little orange boxes).

The problem with all of these remote services is that it’s like storing lots of stuff at other people’s houses. It’s all good and well while you’re still talking to them, but one day you start moving around in different circles, and the next thing you know, it’s gone. Or someone else is living there and you can’t get in.

And how much can you do with that stuff over there anyway? If you’re lucky, maybe a bit (if that neighbour is like Jeeves or Doctor Emmett Brown—OK, they’re both fictional characters but we can hope). But most likely not. And that’s where your own basement comes in.

Dee Dee Dexter's Lab

A basement can be that random place where weird and broken stuff go. But at best, it can be where magic happens. There’s a reason that there’s a cliche of teenagers starting a band in their basement. Queen apparently played in their basement for two years before announcing themselves to the world. In that space they experimented, found their voice, and then emerged onto an unsuspecting world. Would they have found that working at other people’s gigs? I doubt it.

Still, here’s my idea: having your own hosting is like having a basement. Particularly if you can make subdomains and have a few databases on the go. In your down time, you go and mess around with ideas (just on your own, or with others), and depending on how it goes, you might run with it. You do it though because it’s there, and easy. You can go crazy with it. But it’s there. (Kinda like Annie Hall’s bug-ridden apartment, or Carrie Bradshaw’s house in SATC2…sorry for mentioning SATC2).

People such as Jason Santa Maria are known for changing over their site every few years and experimenting with what it means to have a web presence. Jessica Hische is renowned for having an idea, and in a few hours of “procrastiworking” having a site to show for it.

I’m not saying that everyone should be forced to use their own hosting. Certainly bloggers can gain a lot from using WordPress, just as photographers can get a lot more from communities such as Flickr than they’d ever get from just having a site. However, I gladly pay my $120 or whatever it is a year for hosting and unlimited sub-domains. (I admit that there are ways to work completely free using Heroku, Github and/or Amazon Web Services, but I have to admit that I’m not that good a developer).

I know that whenever I have an idea for something (like, say, a clock based on the 12 Doctors), I make a new subdomain on my site (thank you Hostgator for unlimited subdomains and databased) and start messing around. If it’s not so interesting it stays there, if it looks like more of a goer I’ll migrate it out to its own site.

And others use their basement in far simpler ways. Jennifer Dewalt decided to learn coding by building a website every day for 180 days. They’re actually not so much websites as pages, each in their own folder, but it’s a well organised basement of treasures.

All these people with their nice linky one-page sites are like houses with beautiful facades (or, if there’s a bit in there, a nice dining room and even a guest bedroom). But don’t forget about that basement. You could see the next best thing in there.

Welcome Aboard

How To Turn Off Comments in WordPress

Over the last year I’ve been asked a number of times how to turn off comments in WordPress after friends’ blogs have got full of spam. It’s not that difficult to do once you understand that it involves two parts: turning off comments in existing posts, and doing it for future ones.

Turning off comments and pingbacks in existing posts

You can turn comments on and off for existing posts using the Discussion section of the Edit Page settings. If you can’t see it, go to Screen Options and turn on Discussion.

Screen Options

Screen Options

From there, you can turn comments and pingbacks on or off.

Turn Comments Off

Turn Comments Off

However, if you’ve got a lot of posts that’s a lot of effort to do. There are plugins available for bulk editing, but I find that using the Bulk Edit section to do posts 20 at a time is fine in most circumstances. To do this, you go to the All Posts page of your Posts, select all the posts you want comments turned off on, go to Edit and on the screen that pops up change All Comments and Pingbacks to show “no comments”. Then click Apply.

Bulk Edit Comments

Bulk Edit Comments

Turn off comments and pingbacks in future posts

To stop future posts from having comments, go to Settings > Discussion and deselect “Allow Users to Add Comments”. This will stop all future posts from allowing them. Alternatively, you may want to make them auto-turn off after a few days.

Discussion Settings

Discussion Settings

if you have too much spam, you may want to try out using a commenting system like Disqus (which I use on this site and has cut out all but spam). If comments are really important to you, you can also use the WordPress endorsed Askimet (free for personal blogs but paid for non-business ones, thanks for the tip as I assumed it was pay only. Cheers Steven Jones and Caroline Murphy for the heads-up).