2006 in review

31 December 2006

I feel like I’ve been neglecting Infovore a bit in recent weeks, and so thought I’d begin my return to form (as it were) with a semi-obligatory year-end post.

2006 has been really quite a year, on many levels. Certainly one of the most eventful so far. The most obvious change it brought has been a change of job: after two years of working for the New Statesman, I left for a change of scenery. I haven’t mentioned where I am specifically, up until now, but given that most people who know me know, I’m happy to say that I’m working at the Nature Publishing Group, known best for their flagship title Nature. I’m a front-end developer there, writing markup and front-end code to build interfaces and sites. It’s been a great experience so far; after an inital unsettled period I’ve slowly managed to find my feet and am enjoying it a lot. It’s also given me a chance to work, full-time, in Ruby on Rails, which has proved most enjoyable – and at times eye-opening.

It’s also been a year of travel. Between leaving one job and starting another, I went to the USA for the first time – to speak at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. That turned out to be fascinating, exciting, and terrifying in equal measure; I poured perhaps a little too much of myself into the talk, but was very pleased with the results and had a great time at the conference – both in terms of what I learned and the relationships I made and solidified. A shame not to be going again this year, but I’m glad to have been once.

I also travelled to Denmark for Reboot 8 in the summer, again to talk. Less terrifying, this time around, and perhaps my favourite work of the past year – lots of lateral thinking and answering of what-ifs in that talk. Do check it out if you haven’t already. A very different environment to ETech – creative, artistic, and holistic in its approach to technology; really wonderfuly to attend something truly European. As long as it’s on this year, I’m definitely going again.

There was also travel that didn’t so much resemble work. Alex and I went to Barcelona in the autumn for a wonderful holiday – lots of food, sun, reading, and art. A really lovely city, and an excellent holiday. Just the rest I needed, really. Lots of photos of it are up in my Flickr profile.

Life is slowly becoming more settled, really. I’m feeling more confident daily in my work, in my play, and in the city I live in; London is really beginning to feel a little like home. It’ll never truly be home, but it’s great to live somewhere with so many good friends, and so much to do with them.

And what does 2007 hold? No idea, really, though I’m beginning to have some thoughts. I’m seriously considering a fortnight’s holiday – I usually stick to just a week. And I think it could well end up being spent in San Francisco – another trip to the US, to a city full of friends (and, seemingly, more of them every day), and a summer in the sun.

2007 should also be a year of making. I’ve got at least one project to launch very early in the year, and several more on the go. And I mean “making” of everything: making more words, more music, more photographs, far more cooking – more stuff. I’m always wrestling to create, but I plan next year to really make stuff happen. I hope to share more of it here.

I’ve really loved 2006 – ups and downs, for sure, but so many opportunities, so many new friends, so many magic moments – from watching the sea roll in at Barcelona to being mesmerised in the cinema, from late nights talking with friends in far-off hotels to many happy memories in the kitchen.

I hope your 2006 was good; I hope your 2007 is even better. Do keep reading.

Train toilets: not such a design nightmare any more.

23 December 2006

Around a year or more ago, I had an interview for a job (which I was offered, and which for various reasons I had to turn down). There were two great questions in it:

Give me an example of design you love,” and “Give me an example of design you hate“.

The first was tricky. I needed something I not only loved but that I could explain why loved it (and not sound too cliché at the same time). In the end, I went with the Nintendo Wavebird, for its use of technology (the wireless), texture and shape (both of which vary across all buttons).

It was much easier to find something I hated, though. I’ve always hated – with a real passion – the automatic loos on trains, such as those on Virgin. They drive me absolutely mad.

They have three buttons inside: open, close and lock. When you step inside one, the “close” button flashes, indicating you should press it. Fine. Once you press it, the door shuts, and the “lock” button flashes, indicating you should lock it. Again, fine; you push lock and hear a clunk. What frustrates me is that then the open button flashes and so, obviously, you push it, and the door wanders open, leaving you frantically hammering “close” to stop looking like a wally who can’t work the doors. It’s not just me, either; I’ve seen lots of people do it!

I was asked how I could improve this design.

I think the problem comes in the use of three buttons. Open and close as two seperate buttons I can take, but lock isn’t really a button – it’s a toggle; you need to be able to see both locked and unlocked states. So I suggested keeping two buttons for open and close, and implementing a lever for locked/unlocked. Ideally, the lever should be horizontal, to indicate the locking motion, and to distinguish itself from the two vertical buttons.

It’s a design problem I run into quite a lot, usually on the web, where a collection of radio buttons are used not to switch between several states of one condition, but to represent several unrelated ideas.

Train toilet controlsSo imagine my surprise when, on the train home this morning, I found that the First Great Western toilets have been substantially modified (see left). At the top, open and close – and then a flick left/right switch for locking, with a red light for ‘lock’ and green for ‘unlocked’.

Much better. I didn’t make a mistake, and was confident that the door was locked (or unlocked) thanks to the visual indication of a lever. It makes me wonder if someone from FGW was sitting in on that job interview…

So much to say…

23 December 2006

…so little time. I’ve been not so much busy as hectic in the past few weeks, and very out of practice at the blog. I’m planning to change that – in fact, to change a lot – in 2007. Rest assured that all is well here, though it hasn’t been the easiest of times.

I’m catching a train early tomorrow to head back home, to Gloucestershire, and spend a few days with family before meeting the Girl’s family for a few more days, and then it’s back to the Smoke for an extended New Year break. I’m looking forward to lots of food and rest. I’m also probably going to be able to finish the various unfinished blogposts sitting around – about print-out-ed media, about a few of the tricks I wrangled to build this new blog design, about Gears of War, and about 2006 as a whole.

In the meantime: keep safe, keep sound, hold your loved ones close, have a very happy Christmas. That’s exactly what I’m planning to do.

Links & notes for this month