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I has a job II

Ha! A teaser.


I will be spending next year as visiting faculty at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA. This is an excellent and interesting school, and I’ll be doing my part (most likely) teaching courses along the lines of HCI, software design… although, at this moment those details aren’t known.

This looks to be an exciting year, no doubt. Although, with the impending move from the UK to the US (July 26th gets closer every day), there’s a lot on my mind that must get done by then. The basic schedule seems to look like:

  1. Fly on July 26th
  2. Drive to S. Carolina on the 27th (I’m a passenger, most likely)
  3. Spend a week at the beach with Carrie’s family
  4. Drive back one week later
  5. Move to Boston

My SkypeIn number remains the best way to reach me, although once we’re back in the US, my US mobile number will probably be a better bet.

I has a job


Dance Music Theorems

Any dance song you could imagine dancing to while wearing skygoggles is a good dance song.


Any dance song that makes you think of some guy sitting in his studio crouching over lots of weird looking equipment, toggling with this knob and raising that equaliser, banging his head like he was Data receiving stupid amounts of information via his positronic connector, and this was the Enterprise just about to start a journey into a Black Hole of sound, that’s a good dance song.

found at

Also rocks: Pizza/blog/

Update, moments later: As it turns out, I found both of the dance tracks tedious. C’est la vie. But I have discovered an entire web-phenomenon of people ripping old LPs and placing them online available for download. Awesome.

And a story of a “K”…

When I was an undergraduate at Kenyon College, I was (I believe) the first webmaster for the department. I built, which was a Slackware 0.98 (or thereabouts) machine running on Compaq of some sort—the boot sector configuration was a real pain on the Compaqs.

This also involved creating webpages—and a logo. What’s fun is that the department still has the logo kicking around; you can see it on the homepage.

In prepping for a talk, something that didn’t make the final edit was a revised Kenyon Physics logo. I wanted to reference back to my time at Kenyon, and the small, bitmapped version of the logo simply looked horrible in my presentation. My new version is vector-based, and therefore scales nicely to large sizes as well as down to smaller versions. It isn’t exactly like the old logo, but it is close enough that you’d have a hard time telling the difference.

So, share and enjoy: a revised Kenyon Physics logo, ten years later.


If you want the vector version, grab the PDF.

PS. As a relevant (but useless) note, there is one reference on the WWW to Now, there are two.

To Vancouver!

Last weekend, I was in Vienna for purely social reasons. It was an excellent weekend spent with Ralph and friends of his, and what’s great is I get to head back in a few weeks time to give some presentations related to embedded systems development in occam-pi using the Transterpreter. Very cool.

This weekend (I really don’t know when my life became this way), I’m off to Vancouver. I’ll be giving a talk, and will try and catch Bill Clementson, LISPer and up-and-coming Erlanger, who I missed when he was over here in England. Granted, he was a 2 hour train ride from me; as far as I can tell, I’ll be a 20 minute drive from him, so we’ll see what happens.

New fountain pen

Carrie was ordering some ink for her pen, so I decided to be silly and order a fountain pen of my own.


I ordered the Lamy Safari Vista, a clear fountain pen, and a bottle of Noodler’s Black. This is a permanent/archival fountain pen ink, which is awesome; I don’t have to worry about a glass of water taking out my notebook, for example. (Ever since the basement floodings of 1998, I’ve been a little leery of what I use to take notes in my research notebooks.)

Now, I’m going to learn how to use this pen, and probably get ink all over the place. My next post will probably be titled Don’t fill your fountain pen near your laptop, or something similar.

Update: I found this page to be handy, since I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t actually know where to start with the piston adapter. The device is so simple, yet it wasn’t obvious to me what to do. This page has cleaning tips, which look important.

Greenfoot Adventures Day Two: Das Toys

Today, I got up at 3AM, caught a cab to Stanstead airport, flew to Bratislava, took a bus to Vienna, and then spent the day walking around the city. Admittedly, I took a 1-hour nap in the park… but it was such a beautiful day, one just made for napping in the sun. It was glorious.

We had a wonderful dinner of salad, bread, and cheese with an excellent friend and former housemate, enjoyed a few pints of Budvar, and we’re about to head to bed. But… while relaxing in the park this afternoon, I put together the most recent edition of Greenfoot Adventures.

Why? Because I knew that some things Simply Must Be Done.

So, here it is: Day Two of Greenfoot Adventures: Das Toys.

Page 1-4

You can download the most recent version here, or catch all three:

  1. Greenfoot Adventures Day Zero: In Search of the Perfect Scenario (17MB PDF)
  2. Greenfoot Adventures Day One: The Search Continues (13MB PDF)
  3. Greenfoot Adventures Day Two: Das Toys (31MB PDF)

First two scenarios!

We have two scenarios up on the MyGame site that I’d thought I’d point to.

First, we have Herder by lazyeye.


This seems to be a cross between Poul’s boids example and … an experiment in sheep diffusion. Ewe decide. (Baad, baad pun.)

Second is Tetris, by Dibos:


What’s this?! It isn’t there! I don’t know what the problem is, but there doesn’t seem to be an applet there. Hm. However, it’s already received on 5-star rating… from the author! The cheek!

Well, at least we know that the author thinks it’s cool. I hope that gets worked out, so that I can play Greenfoot Tetris from now on, and claim that I’m “product testing.”

I’ll try and keep up on posts over the next few days, but I’m off to Vienna to see a friend and the city, having never been. But I certainly want to keep up on Greenfoot Adventures, so hopefully Poul will keep sending me pictures.

Social Content Sites: flickr

We think we’d like to build a social content (SoCo) site for Greenfoot. Social content sites (digg, flickr, YouTube, Artsonia, and others) allow users from all over the world to share (and, in some cases, remix) their creations with other users all over the world. MyGame is a first cut at such a site for Greenfoot, and it is powering the Greenfoot competition at JavaOne. However, MyGame (as it stands) most likely does not meet the needs of Greenfoot’s current (and future) users.

So what makes a SoCo site? Instead of writing up my notes offline, I decided I might as well put them here. The local group can see the notes, and there’s room for people Not Geographically Co-located to comment. Today, I want to take a cursory look at flickr, a widely used photo sharing site recently purchased by Yahoo!. My first look at these sites will largely have to do with the interface; I’ll circle back around later to look at other aspects of the site (tagging, search, etc.) later.

SoCo Site: flickr

I want to work my way through a few pages of the flickr site. I’m partially interested in the kinds of functionality that the pages expose, as well as how that functionality is presented to the user. I would like to say, up front, that I am not, by trade, a UI designer. I’m just a guy who got his PhD studying novice programmers who happens to write virtual machines for concurrent programming languages for fun. So, feedback appreciated.

The flickr homepage

The flickr homepage.

The flickr homepage is almost entirely given over to a random photograph and various ways for the inexperienced user to browse content on the site. After the random photo, the user’s eye is immediately drawn to the opportunity to tour the site. The bottom half of the page is given over to interfaces for searching and browsing the content on the site. Even the random quote placed in the middle of the page serves as browsing interface; keywords within the quote are actually links into flickr’s tag browser. Experienced users who find their way to this page don’t need any of these features, and therefore, the login option for returning users takes up a tiny percentage of the page.

Schematic view of the flickr homepage.

The flickr launch page

The flickr homepage is very different from the page that a logged-in user interacts with. This ‘launchpad’ is far less focused on providing access to the content of the site, but, oddly enough, dedicates a remarkably small amount of screen real estate to supporting the user in manipulating content.

A user’s ‘homepage’ in flickr.

I’m surprised by how small the “control surfaces” are on this page. A significant amount of space is given over to “Upload Photos” (4% of the screen), which makes sense, as that is probably the most common action a user might undertake. Recent photos posted by myself and others take up serious real estate (30%), as do news and alerts (another 30% or more). There is a lot of non-functional space given over to my name and icon (the middle of the page, 20%). The most exciting part of this part of the screen—a full fifth of the page!—is that it sometimes says “Hello” or “Good day” to me in languages other than English. Unfortunately, the menu (top), which has over 30 options (in the form of small-target Javascript drop-down arrows) takes up only 15% of the screen… less, perhaps, as I’m being generous in my measurements.

The flickr start page for logged in users.

The contrast between these two pages is that the homepage is for visitors that do not know why they are there, and need guidance to get into the site and (hopefully) become paying members. Site members, however, are assumed to have “bought in,” and can handle a more complex interface. That said, I still think that more space should be given over to letting the user easily do the top three or four most common tasks, as opposed to providing (what I consider to be) a relatively painful set of drop-down Javascript menus.

What I like

I like flickr’s main page. It is simple, and gets a visitor into the content quickly through several different mechanisms. Fully 60% of the first page a new (potential) flickr user sees is given over to one or more forms of browsing the content on the site. This strikes me as an absolutely critical design decision if you are creating a SoCo site: new users are best attracted by the content that others created.

What I don’t like

I don’t like the fact that, as a logged-in user, I have so little space given over to interacting with the site. Only 20% of a logged-in user’s launch page is given over to controls; one control is given 4% of the screen real-estate, while another 30+ controls are hidden in a drop-down menu. As an inexperienced user, I don’t even know what those options are, and worse, have no idea what they are unless I go exploring. Given that Greenfoot has… 17 menu options total (where the “Help” menu has the most options of any of the menus), I can’t imagine creating an associated SoCo site that is harder to use than Greenfoot itself. That strikes me as wrong.

I think too much space is given over to news (30%) and the browsing of content (30%) from this interface. Then again, perhaps the authors of flickr have discovered that it is important to use this much space to communicate with their users, and perhaps those thumbnail browsers are useful. I cannot say. But, for me, the biggest problem I see with the flickr site, once I’m logged in, is the lack of actionable space.


flickr represents a mature web app, with many users and many third-party clients that leverage it’s API. The web interface gets hit heavily by thousands upon thousands of users, and will warrant some revisiting. I’m particularly interested in the content manipulation options that exist in the menus (once logged in), as well as the mechanisms by which search through the content and tags is handled. This last point, I think, is important, as it represents a kind of website usability that I want to dwell on for a moment.

This URL is clean and simple:

It actually represents a search into the flickr database: it is a query over the tag ‘wombat’. The user does not see it as a query, it can be easily shared, and is easily mailed/etc. without it getting mangled due to a bunch of ugly in the query string. It is, in short, a human-readable, human-writable query.

A simple and easy-to-use tagging system seems to be at the heart of many successful SoCo sites. Letting users develop their own “folksonomy” is not only important, but perhaps one of the most important things that can emerge from such sites. I’ll look at tagging in SoCo sites in a single post that considers how it is done across a range of web apps; no doubt, there’s a good pool of scholarly and usability work in this space as well.

Watching the detectives

I thought I’d take a second to see what Technorati had to say about Greenfoot. Surely, the entire world must be talking about Greenfoot by now, right?

Well, not exactly.

However, I did find some cool things.

Masood Mortazavi was hanging out in the .org zone, and saw the Greenfoot team. Now, I didn’t know there was a .org zone (Poul just sends pictures, not, you know, information), so that’s kinda cool. I had a chance to hang out with some of the Derby and OpenJDK peeps at SIGCSE recently—good projects if you’re keen on JavaDB and the open-sourcing of the Java stack.

Je ne parle pas beaucoup de Francais, mais Greenfoot, c’est internationale! (Really, I had three years of French over a decade ago. That’s about as good as it gets.)

And I’m guessing this is a University of Kent student; they’ve apparently revamped their weblog, and have been tackling the creation of a microworld in Greenfoot. All I can say is that I hope they keep at it, and if they have any questions, to hit us via email (or some other medium).

Greenfoot recently was mentioned on My Italian is worse than my French, so I won’t be writing anything in that language. I do like the comment “Greenfoot (piede verde?) !”, however. Yes, yes, it is called “foot green.”

Interesting. I’d call it navel-gazing, but I don’t think feet have navels… not even green ones.