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Category Archives: web development

Yesterday I checked out the first BarCamp held in Scotland. Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics hosted the event. I listened to some good talks and met some cool folk.

First off, I listened to an american guy with a very loud voice called Henry S. Thompson (gotta love the initial!) who spoke rather excitedly about XML Pipelines. Gotta say I didn’t understand what this was about but was impressed nonetheless. He warned people to stay away from Yahoo Pipes, a cool tool for aggregating and manipulating feeds, for some reason I didn’t get at the time and don’t remember now.

Next off Austin Tate spoke about stuff to do with AI and Second Life. He heads up AIAI and he showed us around the office that’s been set up in Second Life. I have read snippets of info around the web about Second Life but have visited the virtual world myself. Austin spoke of the future, where it’d be possible to set up an intelligent agent to act on your behalf when you’re not on the web. For instance, your agent could pay bills, answer emails and make decisions on your behalf. Setting up something in Second Life is a good way to explore such things. Scary.

Tony Farndon demonstrated Flock, inspiring me to try it out again. I’m writing this blog using Tony’s BlogPlus plug-in. It’s so easy to add links to posts, that’s why there’s so many.

I hung out with James Turnbull who, amongst other things, runs the popular Google Sightseeing blog. He was evangelising Django, a web framework running atop of Python that I really must check out one day.

I caught a few more talks and finished up listening to Morna Findlay, the School of Informatics schools’ liaison officer. Morna was trying to find out why there has been a sharp decline in students applying for university computer related courses. She divulged that, for Edinburgh University, the intake for computer related degree programmes has halved in actual numbers since 2001, even though there has been an overall rise in the number of students attending university. The general consensus in the room was that schools curriculums were to blame. Pupils tend to think that computer related degrees will involve learning how to use word processors and spreadsheets, just basic office applications, rather than getting down to the nitty-gritty of theory, programming, application design and all the good stuff. Also, I tend to agree with what James Turnbull said about experience is more important to employers than 3 years stuck at university, even though I value the deeper understanding a student will get from a degree.

Then we headed next door to Teviot for some free beers. I met the guys from groopit.com, who were very switched on, answered effortlessly any questions that were thrown at them about groopit. John Sutherland succinctly described groopit as Twitter on speed. Best of luck to them and I recommend you sign-up now, even though they’re still in beta.

Before I knew it, it was 10:30pm and beer vouchers had run out and it was time to leave. May be next time BarCamp is in town I will have something to contribute now that I have seen how things are done.

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After about a one year application process, I have been accepted as an RNIB Computer Volunteer. This involves learning lots about the technology partially sighted or blind people use. Some new terms to me are:

  • Talking Books
  • Electronic Braille Display
  • Electronic Reading Aids
  • Low Tech / No Tech Aids and Equipment
  • Notetaking equipment
  • Producing Braille and Tactile Images
  • Speech Output Systems
  • Video Magnifiers

I’m looking forward to helping out where and when I can and hope I can make a difference to blind users. As a web developer, one of the things that propelled me into volunteering for the RNIB was understanding how blind users used the web. There is much talk about web accessibility and many reasons supporting the case for accessible web sites other than for blind users. An additional benefit of creating accessible web sites is that search engines love an accessible web site, which makes for a good business case for taking the time markup content in an accessible way. If a search engine can read your page easily, assistive technology should be able to too.

Before I sign off, have you tried Google Accessible Search? Web sites that are more accessible appear higher in the results, plus it doesn’t feature Sponsored Links.

You can use the clan finder I redesigned recently. Note the inspiration I took from Google ;-)

This week at my new job I’ve been coding up a new site design for a high street jewellery store. From a usability perspective, their current site is easy to navigate and the products on display are simple to buy from. The new site design, designed by the jewellery store’s brochure designer, looks a hundred times better, but in terms of usability, it sucks.

Nevertheless, I’ve completed the design, adhering to separation of content and style, ensuring that the site is as accessible as possible. The next step is to tweak the site into something more functional, which will ultimately lead to more sales. At the moment, it is impossible to tell what is clickable, navigation style switches between pages, common elements such as headings and menus are positioned differently between pages, there are CSS hover menus that break the device-independent WAI guidelines (or I haven’t found a more accessible way to do this). And I’m sure there’s more but I gotta go to work now.