archive for the Edinburgh category

Festival Weekend

General,Edinburgh Monday 16th August 2010

My parents were visiting for the weekend to get a taste of the Festival experience.

Friday evening we had a very nice meal at L’Escargot Blanc, but chickened out of the £20 “surprise” menu. It really was a surprise, only the chef knew what we would get, the waitress wouldn’t give us any hints, and the whole table had to opt for it. Given the name of the establishment, there was a good chance it might be snails.

Saturday we wandered around Bristo square before picking a random matinee show to go and see – Kate Fox News. Mostly an auto-biographical show based around the major news events in her life, her slightly bizzare up-bringing and, sprinkled with some poetry. Browns on George Street for lunch, very busy, great burger! Then off to the Book Festival to browse the books and people watch the odd mix of grizzled book fanatics, families eating ice creams, gin soaked publishers and people hoarding spare chairs on the lawn. We had tickets to see Rhapsodies in Red, White and Blue at 7pm so we went home to smarten up before heading to the newly refurbished (in a frantic hurry just before the festival) Usher Hall. Great performance, I don’t think I’ve ever since something with a a full orchestra and choir before. I loved the Copland and Gershwin, but some of the Ives was quite challenging. Back home for an excellent (and promptly delivered) takeaway from Zen Kitchen.

Sunday we had a bit of a lie-in and then got a bus over the Foodies Festival in Holyrood Park. I wasn’t quite sure what the expect, they had seemingly been giving free tickets out left right and centre. I was pleasantly surprised though! It was a good size, lots of different exhibitors and we signed up for a free rum tasting class – which amazingly wasn’t a complete sales pitch. Scorching weather by this point which just brought even more people out to the festival! My only nitpick was that they needed more seats, people were sunning and drinking all over the place. We saw my parents off on their train back south and then I joined Ria and friends at Reel to Real. Which was pretty schmaltzy, camp musical goodness with some clever interactions between screen and stage.

Great weekend. rises from the ashes

Edinburgh,Technology Saturday 23rd May 2009

From various backups and by re-doing a chunk of work I’ve managed to get doing something useful again. It even does sensible things like caching now!


Bus Tracker API

Edinburgh,Technology Monday 9th June 2008

A while back Lothian Buses fitted some fancy GPS tracking to all of their fleet enabling real-time tracking. Then LCD screens appeared at (selected) bus stops giving you a list of incoming buses and their ETA. All very clever. Then, at last they launched a web site which gave access to the same data:

I think that making the website resemble the signs from the street is a poor design choice. Why not work with the medium you are presenting information over (the web) rather than trying to make it resemble something else? They constrain information into a tiny space, put it in a stupid font, make the background looks like all lcd-y, use excessive popups and it takes forever just to get to the basic information.

In shock news, this isn’t just a whiny post with no actual action. I present the beginnings of a “Bus Tracker API”. Think of it as a “cleaning” of the data for a fresh beginning. If we can get clean data out of the system then we can build a clean interface on top of it. My API is REST-ful and inspired by the flickr API. I have one method so far “bustracker.departures.getNext” which takes one parameter: the bus stop code. It shows you all of the incoming departures for a given bus stop. Here it is working for the stop nearest my flat. Feel free to change to bus stop code to another one by digging around the Bus Tracker website. I’ll hopefully have some other, more useful methods done soon and maybe some nifty google maps visuals…

Update: Source code now browsable at:


Citizen’s Account Usability

Edinburgh,Design Thursday 15th November 2007

Edinburgh Council have a “Citizen’s Account” area on their website. I registered so that I could view and pay my council tax bills online. The process had been surprisingly painless until I came to add my council tax account number. I was presented with this stellar piece of form design:

Ignoring the incredibly sloppy layout bugs, it doesn’t look so bad, until you actually read the text:

Your account number is an 8 digit number which forms part of the 11 digit number to be found in the top right hand corner of your Council Tax demand. Please ignore the first digit and the last two digits of the 11 digit number. For example, if the number shown on your Council Tax demand is 91234567807, please enter 12345678.

(my emphasis)

Why, why, why are they making the user jump through hoops when entering a simple number? Why isn’t all this stupid number truncating done by the server? Entering an 11 digit account number (only once I notice) can be difficult enough without having to do a number puzzle on the data first. Council, you must try harder.


Gay for Dave Grohl?

Edinburgh,Music Saturday 8th September 2007

Foo FightersFoo Fighters
I saw Foo Fighters supported by Nine Inch Nails and the Silver Sun Pickups at Meadowbank the other week. It was part of T on the Fringe – the music part of the Fringe events and was an awesome concert. It was a long afternoon event (5-11) but the venue is a good size and there is plenty to keep you occupied. It almost rained a couple of times but for the most part we managed to keep pretty dry. There is a shed-load of pictures on my flickr stream and a video of Dave rocking out – surprisingly good quality from my new camera.


Gibson Cometh

Edinburgh,Books Sunday 26th August 2007

Billy G is the ‘hood! I’m looking forward to seeing him tomorrow night.


Eben Moglen & GPLv3

Edinburgh,Technology Saturday 7th July 2007

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Scottish Society for Computers & Law annual lecture by Professor Eben Moglen entitled “The Global Software Industry in Transformation”. It was a very interesting lecture, mainly about the version of the “GNU General Public License” or GPL as it’s commonly shortened to. Eben is a computer scientist turned lawyer is a fantastically gripping speaker. Valley Technology (my employer) I am proud to say was a major sponsor and publicist for the event. Some of the guys I work with worked very hard recording audio and video from the event which is now up on to watch/listen to. I also took a couple of pictures which are on flickr.


Gibson in Edinburgh

Edinburgh,Books Monday 25th June 2007

Wahey! William Gibson is doing an event at the Book Festival in August. I’m booked myself a ticket already. Hopefully I can get a signed copy of Spook Country whilst I’m there.


Beer 2.0

Edinburgh Sunday 24th June 2007

Last week I attended the Friday Coffee Morning’s “end of term” drinks, hilariously dubbed “beer 2.0“. Whitespace had generously donated their boardroom as the venue in their very swish offices. Met up with a few of the regulars who I hadn’t seen for a while and caught up with Nico who is off to Iceland soon. Mike and Jamie had also generously sorted out free beer and food. Behold all of our ugly mugs on flickr.


Highland Fling

Edinburgh,Design,Technology Friday 6th April 2007

Well, the Highland Fling is over!

It was a great day with very interesting speakers covering a great range subjects but centred around Web Standards and “Progressive Enhancement”. Progressive Enhancement (as I understood it) is the opposite to “Graceful Degradation”. If you plan your project with the bling included and then go back and undo the bling to provide functionality to less advantaged users (Graceful Degradation) then 9 times out of 10 you won’t get the time/money to actually undo the bling. If, on the other hand you plan your project so that you get the core functionality working across the board and then add the bling, you’re much more likely to finish with a system accessible to all. This was the message I got from Norm from Yahoo’s talk. It’s a shame he had such a bad throat, he could barely talk!

Some other good speakers were:

The intro by Jeremy Keith – an excellent speaker and drew lots of parallels with literature such as Pattern Recogniton and Neuromancer. Props!

Andy Budd’s talk on the future of CSS was exciting but about the only thing widely supported in CSS3 currently seems to be the opacity elememt. Other interesting elements that will be supported eventually are border-radius for rounded corners and box-shadow for drop shadows. The Advanced Layout module looks like it will blow the current css layout methods out of the water with it’s grid system for layout and re-ordering of the content. Slightly dis-heartening was Andy’s complaints about the workings of the CSS Working Group: the snail-like pace it operates and the possible influence of Big Business on it’s decisions.

Drew McLellan’s talk on Microformats was a bit dry but still good to see them getting pimped.

James Edwards came across as the Grumpy Man of Web Standards with a talk about when to use Ajax (never, if he had his way). He had a point though, and hopefully people will take notice and not just do Ajax for the sake of it.

Andy Clarke ended the day with a nice chatty presentation about what exactly “Progressive” enhancement is, relating it to progressive in the music world. Some interesting anecdotes from the world of freelance designers including a snippet from this standard contract that explicitly lists the browsers a site will be compatible. Also very nicely designed slides, as you’d expect really. Andy also sits on the CSS Working Group as some kind of invited member, he talked of his frustrations with the slow process but also made good points that the working group has to consider not just CSS used for screen rendering and the can of worms that internationalisation is.

There are people I’ve missed and lots of stuff I’ve forgotten already but there are lots of others writing about the Fling. Where do I sign up for next year?