Wednesday, 23 December 2009

All That Jazz

Our team Christmas lunch this year was at Ronnie Scott's jazz club, where you can enjoy an afternoon of food and wine accompanied by sets from three different performers (credit to Dei, our editor, for this inspired idea!) We heard a piano trio, then a great tenor saxophonist and finally a female vocalist, who really whipped the audience up into a festive frenzy, especially with her versions of classic Christmas numbers done in the musical style of the audience's choosing (the dub reggae 'Silent Night' was hilarious). It was a pretty tremendous way to spend an afternoon.

However, part of the deal is that everyone joins in for a big number at the end on kazoos (nicely laid out with the cutlery at each place setting). This was great fun, but even better was when they asked for volunteers to come up for a jam on the famous Ronnie Scott's stage, which has been graced by innumerable all-star names from the music world, past and present.

I didn't need asking twice, but I did let Jeremy go first for a microphone level test; old habits die hard. What's that? Is there a recording of this spectacular event? I thought you'd never ask:

And massive thanks to Alex for his off-the-cuff iPhone camerawork :)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Overheard #99

Our database laughs in the face of so-called numerical rules:
"So you're telling me that 1 & 2 are actually 2 & 3 and 1 is now zero? OK..."

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Just Ask

OK, ready? Ask me anything:

I await the results of this experiment with interest (and not a little trepidation...)

Overheard #98

Sometimes I wonder about our IT security procedures:
"So we need to switch off the two-headed dog..."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Fresh Prince

Now I'm not a massive gamer, but I do remember spending hours of my youth on things like Donkey Kong (on my Dragon32), Jet Set Willy (on a Spectrum borrowed from Guppy's Computer Club in York) and later on, the wonderful Prince Of Persia. The latter is being turned into a blockbuster with Jake Gyllenhaal as we speak and someone recently posted a link to original game designer Jordan Mechner's journals on Twitter:

I can honestly say I haven't been so utterly engrossed for a long time. It's a compelling set of insights into the mindset of a 20-something game designer in the mid-80s, on the cusp of something groundbreaking in the video games world (whilst also harbouring designs on becoming a screenwriter), but also getting to grips with the mundanity of passing his driving test and getting wary landladies to rent him an apartment in San Francisco. He digitizes his little brother running, hanging from walls, swordfighting, etc which forms the basis for the award-winning almost-human (for the time) animation in the game. Imagine being that boy. Wow.

And moments like this:
"But the real breakthrough this week was invisible: I moved a bunch of stuff around so the main game code can use the auxiliary language card. Basically, I’ve just freed up an extra 12K. That gives me some breathing room I’ll sorely need [...] It was a good weekend."

12K = 12,288 bytes = a good weekend :)

Really worth a read.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Overheard #97

The perils of ordering last-minute Christmas presents over the phone:
"Hello? Yes, I ordered a lip-gloss and you appear to have delivered me a designer beaver..."
I never heard the outcome.


Some thoughts on the changes that have been/are being made to the web interface of everyone's favourite waste of time, Twitter. I'm sure much of this is echoed elsewhere on the intertubes but I moan about this stuff every day and I thought I'd put it down in words. Feel free to ignore me.


I like the new in-line retweeting button/function; it makes it simple to pass on things that have caught my eye in my timeline. However, the UI is not brilliant, as follows:

1) Why is the Retweet button placed where the Reply button normally is? For users who have protected their updates (who you can't retweet like this) the Reply button is far right. For users who haven't, the Retweet button is suddenly far right and Reply jumps inside. This makes no sense:

2) If I retweet something, the picture in the timeline shows the person who originally tweeted it as well as a little grey icon to indicate it is a retweet. Fine, I'm all for credit where credit's due. But I also want to know why it has suddenly shown up in my timeline i.e. who reweeted it to their followers, of which I am one - I want to know the credibility of the retweet, if you like. At the moment, there is a tiny line of text informing of this, easily missed and not great UI:

As Alex has just shown me, Tweetie does this much better, showing both pictures overlapping and a coloured corner indicator, making it much easier to spot when skimming through the timeline.

3) If I retweet something, the retweet doesn't show up in my timeline. It could be argued that this is duplication, but it's not; I would like a record of when I passed it on to my followers, so I can keep track of the conversation.

4) Replies to the retweet go to the original tweeter; again, this might be argued to be correct behaviour to accredit the originator, but my followers might reasonably want to say "Why have you retweeted this, you muppet?", rather than replying to the content of the original tweet. Perhaps an option to do so would be helpful.

5) It has become quite common practice to annotate retweets with your own comments, which you cannot do with the button; it is a straight carbon copy of the original tweet. Again, this could be argued to be fairer as there is no opportunity to mess with the wording, but being able to give a reason why you have sent this message on adds context to the retweet for your followers. However, I have heard that Twitter are actively working on this functionality.


There was much debate about how @replies work and indeed Twitter changed this quite early on, so people weren't swamped with every reply from everybody linked to anyone else in your follower list. However, who you put first when replying to a number of people will have a bearing on which of your followers can see it. For example:
fourstar @sarahbrown @greatbiglizard What the hell are you two babbling about?
is quite different from
fourstar @greatbiglizard @sarahbrown What the hell are you two babbling about?
in that only people who follow sarahbrown will see the first one and only people who follow greatbiglizard will see the second one. Admittedly, many people follow both of them (they're lovely people; why wouldn't you?) and would never even be aware of the issue but this feels like a bug to me. I can understand there might be a distinction between a 'reply' (at the start of a tweet) and a 'mention' (within a tweet) but surely someone who follows me and any one (or more) of the people I @reply to should see that tweet, no?

I'm sure I have more niggles (and maybe I should get out more) but I've missed 30 tweets since I started this so I'd better go and see what everyone is so excited about.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Modernisms #4

Oh look, it's another entry in the slightly intermittent Things You Wouldn't Have Heard Ten Years Ago:
#4: Please do not swear
More specifically, "Housemates, you are live on Channel 4; please do not swear" as shrieked by everyone's favourite hair colour advertisement, Davina McCall, at around 10pm each Friday night of the summer, when the 257 cameras cut live to the house and the imprisoned buffoons learned of their fate in the viewer-funded eviction vote. Of course, swearing (& arguing & fighting & crying & shagging) were the only honest reasons anyone tuned in to Big Brother so it always struck me as a little incongruous to have to tell them to stop on the most-watched episode of the week.

But there you are; that's the glamour of television.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Overheard #96

Getting ready for an office Christmas party:
"Are you actually wearing sector-specific cufflinks?"

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Overheard(ish) #95

Now I don't normally meander from genuinely overheard-with-ears items but this was the closing line on a colleague's recently-received email which was simply too good to pass up:
"Please advise your availability so that I can send an invite aftermath."
I am genuinely scared as to what that might be.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Overheard #94

They simply couldn't resist:
"I'm off to the panto next week"
"Oh no you're not..."