THE BLOG

26
Sep

iPod Touch First Impressions

Yesterday I received my 8GB iPod Touch – which I was very excited about! I wanted an iPhone (obviously…) but O2 wouldn’t let me upgrade. Since we’re thinking of going into the iPhone App business, I thought I’d get a Touch to tide me over until my contract runs out next year.

So what do I think of it? I find the keyboard difficult to use, but hopefully that will improve as I get more used to the device. Other than that, I love it! Everything works really well, and it’s so damn pretty. So very, very pretty. I’d love to know how the current location functionality works on it (I’m sure it’s out there, I just need to do some research…) but it works very well, getting my location pretty damn accurately, and also quite quickly. My only disappointment is that the Facebook iPhone app seems to be quite limited, but I’m sure that’s something the guys at Facebook will be working on over the next while. Browsing and working in Safari on it is really easy, and pretty quick (though that may just be the network here). Also, multitouch RULES.

So now I’m waiting for my iPhone Developer status to be approved and I can start putting some little apps of my own on there. Exciting times for Griffs!

16
Sep

Adrian Belew

…is my latest musical obsession. This man has done everything! I’ve been a huge Krimson fan for a long time, but have never ventured into the Belew stuff until now. I ordered Side Four (his latest live album with the Power Trio – more on them later) and it arrived today (complete with US Customs label signed by Adrian himself – he actually posted it to me! how cool is that?!), and I must say it’s fantastic. When I have some money I need to get some more of his back catalogue.The Power Trio – his live band – are superb. It’s comprised of Adrian, and then Eric and Julie Slick, who are not only brother and sister, but are my age. MY AGE. And they’re amazing. Why am I not this good at my instrument yet? I really need to get on that…

On a similar note, I’ve been coveting the Adrian Belew Signature Parker Fly. I have a pretty wide collection of guitars as it is (I’m a bit of a gear whore), but this guitar just about covers everything. It has normal magnetic pick ups, a sustainer pickup, Piezo pickups in the bridge, 13-Pin MIDI output AND it’s got the Variax technology built in. So you can control all the MIDI synths you want with it, sound like any guitar you want, hold a note for as long as you want, and then sound like a normal guitar again. And, probably, do all of these things simultaneously. HOW AWESOME IS THAT? If only they did a 7 string model, I would be outside washing cars to raise money right now.

15
Sep

SQL and Normalisation

I was just having a discussion with a co-worker about some SQL they were doing. They had 3 tables, which looked something like this:

user( user_id, ... );
pages( page_id, ... );
comments( comment_id, user_id, page_id, ... );

So that people can comment on both users and pages. The user_id and page_id in the comments table both defaulted to NULL, and only one would be non-null at any one time. He argued that this was a fine solution to the problem since it minimised the number of tables you had, and that he would gain no actual data storage by separating it out and having two join tables between user-comments and page-comments. I disagree.

I believe that since a comment is an entity which can be applied to numerous things, the table for it should be self-contained, i.e. not have any foreign keys for the things it is applied to. This changes, of course, when the comments apply to only one thing, when it stops being “comments” and starts being “user_comments”, for example. Although the actual relation between user-comments and page-comments is one-to-many, because there are multiple entities I believe it is different case, and thus deserves join tables as per a many-to-many relation. In terms of code, having the join tables makes things a lot simpler (although he argued that you lose a bit of efficieny since you need two queries to save an entity instead of just one for his design). Also, flexibility is greatley increased with join tables – what if the client wants to add a “media” table, which can also have comments? Are you going to have to go back and modify all your queries so that it caters for having 3 possible null fields instead of 2?

My collegue was asking me because he wanted to do a query which did some joins, and then did some other joins based on the value of the non-null field in comments. I wasn’t sure of the actual query, so don’t know if the join-tables solution would have helped (though it proably would…), but he was going down the route of adding SQL conditional statements into his query. Again, here I believe that as little logic processing as possible should be done in everything except the language you are building in (be it PHP or whatever).

What do you think? Am I over-normalising my tables?

08
Sep

Cuppuccino Part 2

I spent some of this weekend playing with Cappuccino, the new Javascript Web App framework from 280North. And I must say, I really like it.

It’s basically an attempt at a web port of the Cocoa framework, and to bridge the gap a bit more between the two it has it’s own language, Objective-J, which is similar to Objective-C, which is used for building Cocoa apps on Mac OSX. This means you can create gorgeous looking applications very easily, and you don’t need to worry about DOM, HTML, CSS etc, it takes care of all of that for you.

The big attraction for me is to give myself a bit more familiarity with the Cocoa framework and Objective-C. I’ve wanted for a long time to be able to build apps for Mac OSX, but have never been able to figure it out. This stems from my mindset as a web developer – I believe the process of building for the web and for the desktop are very different. Cappuccino goes a good way to brdiging this gap, so hopefully the next time I launch up XCode to build something it will all make a bit more sense.

There are still a lot of things I need to figure out with Cappuccino, but hopefully the answers will become more apparent as mnore documentation and examples appear. I’m really excited to actually build a full app using it. Just need to find the time now!

05
Sep

Cuppuccino

http://cappuccino.org/

I’ve been excited about this for a while, and now it’s here! I’m still very excited – can’t wait to get my hands in there and build something with it.

03
Sep

Lessons Learnt, Part 1

As I mentioned yesterday, we killed our startup. I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I’ve learnt from the experience, and after yesterday’s post about starting work immediately, something else has come to mind.

I’ll be the first to admint that I’m not a great graphic designer – though I do enjoy doing it. Similarly, my interface design isn’t great. However, I enjoy doing it. So I’d taken on that role in MeejaCake. One of the big things about MeejaCake was that we were studying the relationship between objects, and so we needed a good interface to allow people to add those relationships. For some reason, I went for the standard, Web 1.0 way of doing things, which was to have separate forms for each relationship and force the user to navigate between them. I knew this wasn’t the best way, but for some reason, I stuck with it. It didn’t work very well. I thought a lot about how I could improve the forms to make them work, but what I didn’t consider was a completely different way of doing the forms, which is what I should have done.

When I hit a brick wall in programming, often I’ll try and code the same problem a different way, to see if that produces the same errors or results. Most times, I’ll find I come up with a better solution than my first attempt. If I had approached the interface design like a programming problem, I would have come up with a much better interface, but for some reason i stuck with the one that didn’t work and kept trying new things to make it work.

My A-level Computing teacher always told us “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”. I should have applied the same rule to interface design. I know I will in future!

For those interested, what I believe I should have done is what the Amazon product does – which is instead of presenting you with a form for each relation, it shows you the entire page (i.e. the page with all the relations on), and allows you to simply add new ones, one at a time. This makes the back and front end code much neater, and since you can do everything with AJAX means the form is a lot more intuitive. Also, users don’t need to learn two layouts, one for the page and one for the form – once they see the page, they will immediately know how to edit it.

Lesson: learnt.

02
Sep

Death of a Start Up

Advice: if you get a good idea, DROP EVERYTHING. Do it. Do it now. Don’t sex, sleep, eat, drink, dream until it’s done. Why? Because the moment you think of the idea the window of opportunity starts to close. Unfortunately for us, the window closed just as we were thinking about leaving private beta. Someone else had the same idea – and that person was Amazon. No way in hell can we compete with them, so we’ve closed the startup. Which, though disappointing, means we were definitely onto something. We wish, however, that we had just done it 18 months ago when we had the idea.
Ah well, back to the drawing board.

01
Sep

OS X Mouse Following Issues

I’ve found a problem on my iMac which is a bit odd. OS X doesn’t seem to be able to trace my mouse movements. This manifests itself in a number of issues, some of which are outlines below:

  • The dock doesn’t magnify
  • When a select a menu, and then hover over the options, the options don’t turn blue (i.e. the hover state isn’t activated)
  • Similarly, when I select a menu and then move across to the next menu, the first menu remains open.
  • The x, – and + symbols on the window action buttons (close, minimize, resize) don’t appear on mouse over.

Now, my MacBook Pro has the same version of OS X, both are up to date, and only the iMac has the problem. I suppose it could be a PowerPC issue, since the iMac is a G5 and the MBP is intel, but I can’t find other people complaining of a similar issue. I wonder if it’s some spyware or similar that’s found its way onto my system – there don’t appear to be any suspect process in Activity Monitor though. It’s not the mouse, either, same issue with different mice.

Has anyone else found this problem? Anyone got any solutions?

Solution! I zapped my PRAM, and everything seems to work fine. I wasn’t entirely sure the zapping worked, but it appears to have done. So yay!