Apr052010
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Icons, icons and icons!

By Vicki Ball

Building any kind of web interface, particularly one that requires any kind of human interactivity, will at some time utilise icons. Whether they be on buttons, used in headings, or tabs or panels, icons are like little visual pieces of informative haiku: small, succint and should make you smile.

more »
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Railscasts

By Vicki Ball

In our opinion, Ryan Bates is something of a Rails stevedore: since March of 2007 he’s been packaging and delivering Railscasts to the interwebs on a weekly basis.

Available through iTunes or via download on the Railscast website, each episode lasts between five and twenty minutes, with shownotes and additional resources also available on the website.

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Websites and security, what you should be asking your developer

By Vicki Ball

Every website and application has vulnerabilities, and each of these vulnerabilities can expose your site or business to harm- be it through the loss of valuable data or damage to your company’s reputation if the exposure becomes public.

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Making the world a better place

By Vicki Ball

In Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, poor Laura Fairlie and resourceful Marian Fairlie struggle to outwit and escape the clutches of Laura’s evil and sadistic husband Sir Percival Glyde. Set in the mid to late 17th century I greatly enjoyed this novel when I first read it a few years ago. Perhaps the greatest impression it made on me was how truly liberating technology can be.

But what does this have to do with Google, Twitter and making the word a better place? Well, let me explain…

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UX Team of One - Leah Buley

By Vicki Ball

Continuing on with the User Experience Festival (as inspired by Smashing Magazine’s article), today sees us listening to Leah Buley of Adaptive Path talk about her experiences in design and user experience.

Leah’s hand drawn illustrations are really captivating, as is her narrative. The presentation is a great source of good and practical ideas about how to approach design from a user experience point of view.

Watch it

(Duration approx 30 minutes)

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How do I tell if a developer is right for me?

By Vicki Ball

Your website is important. Your time is important. Your money is important! So finding the right developer is important too.

Below I’ll explore some questions you should ask and things you should consider when finding a developer for your website.

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Jan062010
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Don Norman - Three Ways Design Makes You Happy

By Vicki Ball

Don Norman talks about the Three Ways that Good Design Makes You Happy (on visceral, behavioral and reflective levels) and how emotion relates to design.

(found via Smashing Magazine)

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Dec032009
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When marketing and being helpful collide

By Vicki Ball

Love Matthew Handy’s mathematical business cards- a great example of combining marketing and creating a useful resource.

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Rubular: a Ruby regular expression editor and tester

By Vicki Ball

Perhaps I’m a little odd, but I find regular expressions thrilling- a mix of fun and scary, powerful and complex.

Rubular is a great website for testing out regular expressions for Ruby. I find its responsive ajax interface particularly useful- have your sample text and build up the regular expression piece by piece.

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Giant Robots Smashing into other Giant Robots

By Vicki Ball

The name of the Thoughtbot blog (Giant Robots Smashing into other Giant Robots) made us laugh out loud when we first found it, followed by a quick vote in the affirmative (carried through at 100%) for most awesome blog name ever.

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But I can get it for less!

By Vicki Ball

Chances are, if you look hard enough, you can always find a cheaper price. Sometimes we go into this situation with our eyes open: we go Virgin Blue not caring about an inflight meal, buy something second-hand, or obsessively search and bid on eBay for the chance of a bargain.

Sometimes, though, we don’t go in with our eyes open…

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Nov092009
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Desire lines

By Vicki Ball

Desire lines is the name given to a path made by the erosion of many people walking along the same trail- sometimes completely ignoring existing paths established by designers and architects.

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Nov082009
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Succeed Blog

By Vicki Ball

Because you should always celebrate successes, and because awesome things should be blogged about- there exists the Succeed Blog.

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Oct222009
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Signal vs Noise

By Vicki Ball

Signal vs Noise is 37Signal’s blog, about “design, business, experience, simplicity, the web, culture, and more”.

37Signals is well known in the internets for a few reasons- mostly as the home of David Heinemeier Hansson creator of Ruby on Rails, and also for their range web-based services for managing projects, people and things (Basecamp, Highrise, etc).

With a reputation for being opinionated innovators (and, some would say, arrogance), the blog is a great mashup of discussions about many things business and web, but the comments can occasionally suffer from a bit of Tall Poppy Syndrome. All of which gives a great insight into how a “big” software development company works, innovates and is perceived.

The most prolific contributors are Jason Fried, Matt Linderman and Ryan Singer. While each of the 37Signals products has its own blog, you’ll occasionally hear about new features- but always in the context of a broader discussion, perhaps about usability, business strategy or design/implementation process.

And I think that’s what sums up what I love about this blog so much- it’s the thinking entrepreneur’s blog about real practice. Discussions in the comments are also often thoughtful and thought-provoking, and with a large readership you’re bound to get a healthy range of views.

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Oct202009
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Open Up! campaign website - neat design

By Vicki Ball

Check out OpenUpNow,org, a non-partisan political movement in the UK (a little like our GetUp! but focused on one issue).

The movement (and website) is in response to the scandal in the UK some months ago regarding MPs essentially rorting their expenses system to reimburse themselves for things like mortgages they’d already paid off, adult videos and a £1,600 ornamental duck house.

The videos on the site are emotionally packed and highly amusing, but the site design also impresses me greatly. It features muted, “plain paper” colours and textures, all lines, buttons and icons have a “sketched” or drawn kind of style. It could have been overwhelming or too kitschy, but the consistent application of the style (right down to the RSS feed icon), warm colours and simple design mean that it doesn’t annoy or distract.

This style is really closely aligned with their message: they are a grass-roots, no frills movement powered by the people. A slick and professional “web 2.0” look and feel would be all wrong here, and probably make people feel like this group was wasting money on web design- precisely the wrong message for their campaign!

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Oct192009
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Horrible grey buildings

By Vicki Ball

Audio and video aren’t that crash hot (sorry), but Stephen Fry’s rant about Microsoft Windows makes some fantastic points about the importance of usability and how software and interface are part of our working environment.

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Oct152009
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How much should my website cost?

By Vicki Ball

If you’ve ever contemplated getting a website for yourself or your business, I’m sure the first question that’s popped into your head is “How much will it cost me?”. Maybe you’ve received a quote or an estimate from someone and been surprised at the figure being much higher or lower than you expected and wondered if you’re getting the right advice.

This article is about helping you figure out what the answers to some of these questions might be and why.

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Put the damn tabs back in the book!

By Vicki Ball

Watching this interview today between Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Chesley Sullenberger (the pilot who safely crash-landed a plane in the Hudson earlier this year) fills me with admiration for this intelligent, thoughtful, skilled and well-grounded man.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Chesley Sullenberger
www.thedailyshow.com

I think there are some really important lessons here- not just for pilots, but for any professionals.

I simply can’t imagine how I would handle a situation like the one that Mr Sullenberger faced. He says he can hear the stress in his voice, but whatever stress he felt he was still able to think clearly and rationally and solve problems. Mr Sullenberger attributes it partly to his nature, but also to his “decades of training”. Training that has examined the risks, anticipated as many of them as possible and even prepared pilots for situations that can’t be anticipated.

We face these situations in software testing- trying to anticipate the risks and problems we could face, creating tests to find and define them. What we struggle with the most in our testing is the risks we can’t identify or imagine.

Mr Sullenberger also mentions his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, and how, during the incident, he was with him “step by step, solving the next problem”. Which sounds to me like test-driven or behaviour-driven development: taking one small piece of the problem at a time and solving it. If you can crash-land a plane safely this way, then you sure can develop an application!

What really hit home, though, were Jon and Sully’s discussion about experience and skill and how it must be valued. Mr Sullenberger credits his decades of experience for his ability to deal with this situation and explains how financial pressure on the aviation industry has led to pilots being paid less and crazy cost-cutting measures like taking handy tabs out of an airline emergency manual.

He’s speaking about the airline industry, but really it applies everywhere: if you don’t value the profession, you can’t attract the best and the brightest- and isn’t that what you always want?

I’ve worked for people who barely understood what I did and who certainly didn’t appreciate the skills and intelligence needed to solve the problems I faced. It’s disappointing when it happens and the ultimate result is always going to be that you’re going to lose that person and all the talent, skills and experience that they represent.

If something’s worth doing, then it must involve skill, which takes time, determination and investment to grow. You can’t just buy it, you can’t just assume you’ll never need it, and you can’t just expect it will be there when you need it without investing in it.

I think Mr Sullenberger says it best:

“One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

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What not to do when it hits the fan

By Vicki Ball

What shouldn’t you do when there’s a major system outage affecting your customer’s systems?

According to Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe don’t do nothing. Because if you do, or you drag your feet, or don’t mea culpa or even acknowledge there’s a problem, then, not only will your customer be very upset, but it will probably appear in a national newspaper (and get blogged about).

Mt Fyfe was so upset he blasted IBM, saying in a leaked email:

“In my 30-year working career, I am struggling to recall a time where I have seen a supplier so slow to react to a catastrophic system failure such as this and so unwilling to accept responsibility and apologise to its client and its client’s customers.”

Since most systems were restored four hours later, it must have been a fairly catastrophic failure indeed, but I think IBM’s handling of the incident has made the situation 10 times worse than it could have been- and is the real reason it’s appearing in the press.

When something goes wrong, especially if it affects your customers’ ability to service their clients, the first priority must be communicating that you’re aware of the issue and working on a solution. If you can identify the cause, tell the customer what it is, even if it might be your fault. The best maxim is to always treat your customers how YOU would like to be treated.

As to the apology part… opinions can be divided, but I think the best advice is to be honest and proactive wherever you can.

I sometimes wonder if IBM’s reaction to this incident is simply an inevitable part of outsourcing your support to such a large company. IT support can be such a hard slog- people are always unhappy and frustrated when they call you, the problem is never what they think it is, and you’re probably not being remunerated very well.

When it hits the fan, can you really be surprised that such a small cog in a big machine wants to pass the buck or “escalate the issue” to some other department?

Don’t always assume that a “big name” like IBM is enough insurance for when something goes wrong- pick suppliers that match your size and needs. And if you’re a big company like Air NZ, invest directly in some “home grown” support as well as outsourcing. They’ll have your best interests at heart, not just squeezing every cent they can out of the contract.

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Oct082009
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A missed night in Fantasia

By Vicki Ball

Recently I was watching ABC’s Good Game (you may wonder why someone like me, who doesn’t even own a gaming console, watches this show, but the simple reason is that they are interesting and funny).

The segment was on music in games, in particular a special event in Sydney called A Night in Fantasia. Performed by the Eminence Orchestra, it features music from anime and games, all beautifully brought to life by a full symphony orchestra.

Unfortunately, I only found out about this concert after their one and only 2009 performance. D’oh!

But it did remind me of a school trip to see a symphony orchestra perform back when I was in Grade 5. It was a special performance for young school children and featured a few different “important” pieces. The conductor would introduce each piece, telling us it’s name and also where else we might have heard it- in a famous movie, in a commercial, etc.

Besides this being my first experience of live orchestral music (which nothing can compare to), it was the first time I became aware of the intertexuality of everything we create and experience. Hearing this music that was familiar in completely another context was like a tap on the shoulder and a sharp reminder to always think about where things come from.

Weaving references to other people’s creations into what we make is another way we communicate with people. A stylistic reference can allude to similar functionality, using certain colours can create associations and engender certain feelings, and popping in a Star Wars reference or too can create an instant feeling of shared understanding… and maybe even a laugh or two.

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Sep212009
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Users, Roles, and naming the join model

By Lachlan Sylvester

I recently was working on some code for a security model. It was pretty standard, with Users and Roles and lots of other stuff that felt like overkill.

I hit a bit of a stubbing block when it came to naming my join model. A user has many roles through what??

In the end I copied my database and went with privileges. The result was

class User
  has_many :privileges
  has_many :roles, :through => :privileges
end
class Privilege
  belongs_to :role
  belongs_to :user
end
class Role
  has_many :privileges
  has_many :users, :through => :privileges
end

I find that coming up with good names that accurately reflect the intent as one of the biggest programming challenges.

It also got me thinking about how to model responsibilities, even though they they weren’t needed is this particular case. I think that it would be something like:

class User
  has_many :great_powers, :conditions => {:great => true}
  has_many :great_responsibilities, :through => :great_powers
end
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Sep152009
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Buy a BMX at the Anchor

By Vicki Ball

One of our favourite clients is the crew at Anchor BMX – their blog keeps us endlessly entertained and amused.

Recently we’ve been helping them out by extending their online catalogue to include a shopping cart and online ordering through PayPal.

By utilising PayPal’s merchant services, Rails’ adaptable framework and our own awesomeness, we were able to implement the whole project within three weeks and within Anchor’s budget.

It’s a win for everyone! Especially me, because I’ve just ordered this awesome Best Friend’s tee.

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Sep122009
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The All New Stark Raving Sane

By Lachlan Sylvester

Hypothetical Solutions has just launched their all new, long overdue blog Stark Raving Sane.

This is were we will be talking some sense to ourselves and some nonsense not to ourselves. Hence the name.

Here you will find our musings on web development and design, as well as news from Hypothetical Solutions.

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Sep082009

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How many Rails developers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Two- one to screw in the bulb, one to write a unit test.

Boom, boom!

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The Hypothetical Blog: Stark Raving Sane

April 05 Icons, icons and icons!

Building any kind of web interface, particularly one that requires any kind of human interactivity, will at some time utilise icons. Whether they be on buttons, used in headings, or tabs or panels, icons are like little visual pieces of informative haiku: small, succint and should make you smile.

more »

What We're Reading

Railscasts

In our opinion, Ryan Bates is something of a Rails stevedore: since March of 2007 he’s been packaging and delivering Railscasts to the interwebs on a weekly basis.

Available through iTunes or via download on the Railscast website, each episode lasts between five and twenty minutes, with shownotes and additional resources also available on the website.

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