Amy Guy

Raw Blog

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adventures in HTML5

So I was all excited about block level links.

But then Firefox had to go and vomit the DOM all over the place.

Which, incidentally, screwed with my layout somewhat.

Everything else could handle it.  Including IE6.  Grr.  For the record, this was Firefox 3.6.10, Windows and 3.6.13 on Mac.

So I'll be keeping an eye on that one before trying it again.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It’s only half past one.

[A summary of things I feel about HTML5, from a sleep-deprived mind]

It feels like it should be much later... earlier... than that.  I’ve spent hours and hours reading debates about HTML5.  Mostly debates in the comments of blog posts and articles.  I feel fairly well versed in two sides of the argument, the nature of which boils down to “HTML5: What is the point?”.  

My personal view is that progression is good.  Development for the sake of development is good.  Even if you don’t get it right the first time, at least you’re doing something, and not just whining about it.  Someone (yeah, someone important, I don’t do citations at this time in the morning) said that HTML5 was being developed for the present, and that it will be rewritten in the future, to meet the needs in the future.  Lots of people had a problem with that concept, as we should be developing for the future.  Lots of people supported that concept, as predicting the future is quite a challenge.  I haven’t decided where I stand yet.  Maybe I don’t need to.  

I like the fact things are changing, because it makes me feel excited and challenged and all that.  It upsets me a little that I’d just got the hang of all this web development malarky, and now there’s more?!  Lots of people seem to feel the same about the latter.  Which is understandable.  Understandable in a world where the web is expected to be a fixed thing, and you make a website, and it works, and customers are happy, and clients are happy, and it stays like that forever.  But the world and the web (and customers and clients) are fluid and flowing and flexible and fickle.  Peoples’ needs change, hardware changes, software changes, businesses change.  They always have, and always will, so where this idea that the web should whoa slow down a second and wait for the slower ones to catch up has come from, I’m not quite sure.

This makes it sound like HTML5 appeared overnight.  Which for me, in a way, it did.  Appeared to my conscious, concentrating, information-absorbing mind, anyway.

But the part where the HTML5 spec has been under development for like six years or something now?  Come on guys.  I know it’s not easy, but really.  Give the lazy people something to complain about.  Or at least make a big deal out of it from the start.  So ‘they’ can start thinking about it from the get-go.  Maybe a big deal was made, and I just missed it.  But I was making websites six years ago, just.  So if I missed it, ‘they’ did too.

That last paragraph went a bit to the dogs.  What I’m trying to say is: the little man on the ground, the guy making the websites day-to-day, the guy dabbling, the guy fouling up the standard mark-up you hold so dear... Tell him what you’re doing, as you’re doing it, so he’s prepared.

I know you can’t force change.  Hell, outside of term time I still live under a regime where IE6 is deemed a perfectly adequate browser, installing Chrome ‘breaks’ IE, so isn’t allowed, and [insert new web thing since 1997] might be a great feature, but since my father doesn’t explicitly use it, any development on that front is pointless.  Hey, he even (almost daily) states angrily that film making companies are at fault because their productions are shown letterboxed on his 4:3 TV.  (I just searched so I could state that widescreen TVs have been commonplace since [year], and discovered that films have been being made in widescreen since around 1929.  HAH.  I’ll quote that juicy fact next time).  But this is whole other blog post.

I was going somewhere with this.  Oh yes.

I still don’t know whether I can put a <nav> in a <header>.

That’s all I was trying to find out when I stumbled across the various debates.

I’m officially declaring the HTML5 spec subject to interpretation.

And I’m putting the <nav> in the <header>.  It’s part of the header of the page.  In this particular context, if I had a div with id header, I’d put the navigation inside it.  To hell with you all.

PS. Thanks for the great work on developing HTML5, guys.  My life would be dull and repetitive without the likes of you; I’d be reading and writing a lot more fiction, and spending far more time with my family.  Much obliged.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I bought Tigo a new toy today.

He’s terrified of it.  


It’s a brightly coloured boing.  I think he thinks its a snake.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A moorhen died in my arms today.

It was sad indeed.  Plus the hoard of ducklings is now down to seven.  (There were nine, last time I was in, and they started at ten).  Apparently they can die from being too wet.  Who knew.

I also encountered this morning: a pigeon who held his head upside down and walked in circles.  He had issues.  And a flightless canary, who seems healthy in all other aspects.  Maybe he’s just awkward.  But because of this, it doesn’t look like he’s fit for the outside aviary.  If I didn’t think Tigo would eat him, I’d adopt him in a second.

Speaking of Tigo, he seems to be exhibiting nesting behaviour:
I think he might be hormonal.  It would certainly explain the sudden increase in biting.

PS. Yesterday’s prophecy came true.  Quelle surprise.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Having been recently re-inspired to delve properly into the world of HTML5

I write this as a commitment to producing a number of useful things over the next two weeks.  And I will read all of Jeremy Keith’s books.  And I will make sure all of my sites validate, even the ones I did in a hurry.  And I will rebuild my portfolio with HTML5, and for mobile.

I’m going to start tomorrow.  Promise*.

I’m now reading this.

Things are being learnt.

* Not a promise.  In all likelihood, tomorrow, I will spend several hours at Weirfield Wildlife Hospital cleaning up excretions of sick animals and loving every minute of it; followed by an afternoon and evening spent playing Mum to a certain parrot and consequently failing to do anything else.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

“Oh, you might not want to go in the tea room just yet...

“There’s a buzzard in there.  He’s shit on everything.”

Turned out to be an arctic buzzard.  Way off course, seemingly struggling to walk or fly, and not in a good mood.  One to add to my list of animals I have seen, but shouldn’t ever have had chance too.

Edit: Look, it’s famous now!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Professional Practice: guest speaker number three

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Paul Charman
Area: CV Writing 

I've had so many patronising talks about CV writing in my life that I'll admit I was dreading yet another. The fact that Paul almost at once acknowledged that his slides and advice may be patronising was a good start though, I suppose. I have no doubt that for people who have not been subjected to so much identical advice in their lifetime would have found the talk useful and informative, but for me it served only to reinforce everything I already knew. 

(Not to mention contradict some of the things the first speaker of this module said, and consequently support some of my comments in my first blog post). 

With every website, book, tutor and professional giving out matching advice about CV writing, it baffles me how people still manage to get it wrong. But I guess advice is rarely given out for people to take. I do feel I learnt a great deal about the subject over summer, working closely with the staffing team at Google (although there are many company-specific quirks, that may not apply to the wider industry). But if I want fresh, new advice about applying for jobs, I feel I would seek it from a recruiter, someone in the industry... someone who actually reads and judges the CVs for a living. But even then, until recruitment processes in general get a massive overhaul, there is only so much anyone can say about the subject.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Professional Practice: guest speaker number two

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Roy Isbell
Area: Digital security

Depending on your point of view, you can probably claim the company you started was successful if it is eventually bought out by a global giant, such as Symantec. Roy certainly had this air of success about him as he told us about the route he'd taken to get where he is today. But he didn't dwell on his life story for the entire hour as we half expected. Instead he gave a thought provoking presentation about digital security issues, from their origins in the days when losing your data was the biggest concern, to modern day crackers, malware and botnets. 

He emphasised how much of a profitable growth industry digital security is, from both the point of view of those trying to breach the security, and those trying to prevent the breaches. Roy mentioned that the UK government has recently allocated £8 million to cyber security but a quick search* yielded nothing to back this particular claim up... Instead I found articles from as recently as this afternoon about the £1 billion that will be spent on this issue, as well as quite a few statistics that reinforce everything else Roy had to say about the activity and effectiveness of botnets. 

So although I'd heard of most, if not all, of the buzzwords that came out of Roy's presentation, I'd never really thought about them. That's not entirely true. I use free anti-virus software and common sense when I'm browsing. Goodness knows data security was hammered into all the new Google interns on the day they handed over our shiny new MacBooks. But when you log into your Internet banking from your own laptop, what could possibly go wrong? How can this textbook company you've never used before, that you're putting your card details into right now, possibly not be legitimate? Why would a stranger in Russia be interested in logging my keystrokes? It's one of those... It'll never happen to me situations. 

I paid attention though, because although I've never really built a web application big (powerful, used, important) enough to warrant anything more than sanitising database entries before, I will be doing this year. So I should probably get wise to this network security stuff. 

*A search of thirty seconds or less being all the multi-tasking, attention-deficit 'Internet generation' of today are capable of.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Professional Practice, guest speaker number one

[This post is written as an informal part of a university module]

Speaker: Ken Blair of BMP Recording
Area: Sound recording/engineer

Although Ken’s area of expertise is not directly relevant to my degree, I have frequently worked alongside media students both informally and more recently as part of a start-up company in Sparkhouse. Thus I am able to relate to many of the things he discussed about sound engineering, as I have had second-hand experience of creating soundscapes for animations, or musical tracks for short films, for example. I wrote lots of notes about the details of the things he does on a regular basis, and the differences between on-location and studio recording; between recording pop music and recording classical. But it seems fruitless to transcribe them all here, when his day-to-day experience, while interesting, is of little consequence to me personally. 

However what did catch my interest was that Ken started his own company straight out of university, similar to what I am involved with in Sparkhouse. He discussed the ‘catch twenty-two’ of needing industry experience to find work for your company, but people being unwilling to hire because of a perceived lack of experience. He also affirmed that the decreasing cost of technology has made it easier for people to create their own recording studio setups, enabling freelancers to charge the absolute minimum for the work they do, causing a very competitive price market. 

I (and the others I am working with in Sparkhouse) have fortunately been able to take advantage of the latter issue to solve the former. Several years as informal student freelancers meant we could afford to charge the minimum, or work for free, with the focus being on gaining experience and reputation rather than worrying about earning money. Now we have started our own company, we can start charging ‘real world’ prices to bigger companies, and are able to do so supported by a significant portfolio of existing work. 

Knowing that this method has so far worked for myself and others, I feel Ken could have offered his hindsight to those in the audience who may not have had the same experience. That is, he could have advised to take advantage of the years of having a student loan and lots of free time to build up a portfolio of work and experience relevant to an individuals particular career aims, without needing to worry about taxes and bankruptcy. This would help to avoid the problems that his own company had right at the beginning. 

Having said that, level three is probably too late for students to be hearing that kind of advice; it might be more useful, and inspirational, during level one. 

Ken did offer advice about writing CVs, for those who do have little industry experience - to focus on one’s skills, rather than one’s past jobs - but commented that employers of new graduates are sympathetic to the lack-of-experience problem, understanding that their job applicants have just come out of university. I’m not convinced that this is a good message to be sending... Perhaps employees of sound engineers and audio technicians think differently, but my experience so far in the computing industry (mainly software and web development areas) has taught me that the new grad job market is so saturated with graduates with high calibre degrees that having something on your CV that you have done, rather than can do is vital. 

Anyone can list the modules they’ve done, and the programming languages they have dabbled in over the course of three years. You stand out if you write about the open source project you contributed to in a specific language, or the academic poster you presented at a technology conference about your chosen field. Listing skills has a lot more impact if you can prove that they really are your skills. 

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Tools, toys and a chocolate fountain

As expected, the first week flew by, with lots of small projects coming my way as well as meetings scheduled about some bigger ones. I also finally got to meet the rest of my team, who had been in Zurich at the Anita Borg Scholarship Retreat.

Google Calendar has become a tool impossible to live without. Whilst I'd never previously used it with any seriousness, after two days at Google I can't imagine ever planning my time without it again.

Similarly the Tasks feature in Gmail has become invaluble, and I've started to use it to remind myself about menial things to do in my personal life as well. The trick is to write down something you have to do the minute you're asked or emailed to do it. The list quickly became bottomless, but you can move things up and down by dragging - so it's easy to prioritise, and of course there's the satisfaction of a big tick and a strike-through when a task is done.

It also surprises me how quickly having meetings with people in other countries has become normal. Video conferencing is seamlessly integrated into the normal workflow, so you can either make a call from your desk for a quick chat, or book a room (for the person you're calling, as well as yourself) for a longer meeting. I've met the members of my team in Zurich and Vienna in this way. (Still hoping I get to head out to visit them in person some time though!)

Other particularly memorable highlights of the week included hiding under a desk, behind a giant red ball, waving toys in the air like puppets in the background of a short video... For like, seven takes. Not in my job description, but definitely fun. Plus the chocolate fountain the canteen. Everyone seemed amazed at this, so I guess it doesn't happen often. There were mini jam doughnuts to dip. I do love working here.

But not just because of the food (although that is quite a contributing factor. Seriously, the vegetarian chilli - twice - was awesome). I also love how well interns are treated, and how I feel that the projects I'll be getting started with next week actually have some sort of impact. I've made friends with a group of other interns (mostly engineering ones) and I'm pretty sure they all feel the same. We don't just get menial tasks to keep us out of trouble, but hefty pieces of work that keep us interested and thinking.

Monday, June 28, 2010

First Day as a Googler

I have my own desk, my own email address and a shiny shiny MacBook Pro. I also have a million and one things to remember, three floors to learn my way around and a ton of name/face/job combinations I've almost certainly forgotten already. The important thing is, I know where the canteen is. In fact, I'm still in the office right now (the rest of the team having gone home almost an hour ago) purely because I'm waiting for the canteen to re-open for dinner.

Already I have meetings scheduled and an event to attend. I spent a lot of today learning the ropes of the intranet. There are all these delightful extra things within the regular Google products you know and love... Things that aren't available to the public, and that I can't even talk about. Keeping the excitement inside is painful, but if I breathe a word, there will probably be a contract on my head. Not really, that would be evil. But I'd be in trouble.

So while I wait for my second free meal of the day, I'm signing up to internal mailing lists... Things like... the daily menu for the canteen.

Oh, some of you may be interested... I'm entitled to bring two people per month to the canteen for lunch. That's six people in total. Let me know if you're interested, although three to four spots are probably already taken by default.

Now, I hear plates clanking in the distance... Time to go!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Having finally found somewhere to live in London, I'm now looking forward to returning to Google's amazingly brightly coloured office in Belgrave House. The few hours I spent there during my interview left me with impressions of comfy chairs, excitable people, and rubber ducks stuck upside down to the ceiling. I also got a fleeting glimpse of the legendary canteen, which I'm sure I will become very familiar with over the coming weeks.

For those of you who don't know, my role as University Programmes Intern will involve supporting the University Programmes team as they forge links between Google Engineering and the academic world, throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa (read more about it here). It's a non-technical role, but I'm hoping my technical background will be helpful in relating to the technical people (students and academics) the team will be working with.

Here's to hoping I'm up for the task!