Staying on-task

How do you stay focused on a task or activity?

Honesty time. I suck at staying focused. In my life I’m never far away from an internet-capable device, so distraction is a big time sink for me. Twitter, IM, RSS feeds, iPhone games, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, so much will drain away my time.

When I am on task, it’s usually because I’ve set myself crystal-clear goals for the next few hours. If I can see the desired result and I know exactly how I can get to it, that’d be a good clear goal.

I try to rock the Getting Things Done methodology, using Cultured Code’s Things, with good results: I know exactly what it is I should be working towards. Where I currently let myself down is not doing my regular/weekly reviews, and sometimes slacking on writing good next actions.

Maybe I should mix in the Pomodoro technique to build focus. Anyone out there tried this, or something similar?

What’s 2011 got in store for me?

I’m taking what might look like some big risks this year. I’m giving up my well-paid full-time work for an internship at my church in Wellington and a part-time job at a Wellington PHP and ActionScript house.

Part of the internship at Arise will be doing a Local Church Certificate qualification. It’s not much, or probably even all that difficult at NZQA Level 4, but means I’m a student again. Probably a financially-challenged student. The rest of the time I’ll be helping out where my skills and time lead me. Most likely helping with the website and creative side of things, and with anything else that I can help out with.

Slicing my work-time in half when I’m (almost) 30 isn’t something I intend to take lightly. I probably wouldn’t have applied for the internship if my buddy Dan didn’t offer me part-time work at Instinct working on ActionScript and PHP projects.

I’m pretty excited though. I’m gonna be put through this tough time to come out at the other end a different person. Beyond what I’ve said above, I’ve got very little more idea of what will go on. But I say to all of it:

Urkle: Come at me Bro

Come at me, Bro!

😉

The truth about iPhone Emoji

There has been a few posts going around the internet talking about the enabling of Japanese emoji on the iPhone. I was curious, and after enabling and experimenting, here’s the truth about emoji on iPhones.

Once enabled, you get access to a staggering amount of icons! To be exact, 469 symbols, ranging from smiley faces to weather icons, flags, animal faces, (clean) hand gestures, and much more. Here’s what they all look like, screen-grabbed right on my iPhone after I put them all in an email. FYI, scaling has occurred, these are not perfect.

Diagram listing all Emoji for iPhone and iPod Touch v2.2.1

Diagram listing all Emoji for iPhone v2.2.1

The trick here is that while these icons look fantastic on the iPhone, when sent in SMS text messages and emails, the beautiful pictures you see above are sent as Unicode characters, as they came through to me via my Gmail:

These characters are part of the Private Use Area of Unicode. Which is why, if you’re viewing this page on a browser not running on an iDevice, you will see a whole slew of question marks or boxes with little letters in them, followed by the copyright, registered trademark and trademark symbols.

Doing some more research, it turns out a bug has been filed on OpenRadar outlining how Apple’s implementation isn’t even that compatible with NTT DoCoMo’s de-facto standard on ‘Pictographs’, even though it would seem they’ve implemented every single icon in that standard.

I’m not expert, but it seems that pre-Unicode, Japan standardised on Shift-JIS, a modification to ASCII that would allow the storage and display of the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana characters that make up Japanese written language. This was pressed forward into the design and manufacture of the Japanese handsets, and even into the operator’s networks, and for the time being, this means both NTT DoCoMo, the biggest telco in Japan, and Softbank, the telco serving iPhones in Japan.

NTT DoCoMo created the defacto standard on emoji on Japanese mobile phones, and have outlined the character encodings for both Shift-JIS and Unicode. Every handset in Japan supports this standard.

When the iPhone was first released, it apparently was criticised in Japan for not supporting the sending and receiving of emoji glyphs. Eventually Apple got around to it, but according to rdar://6402446, iPhone Firmware 2.2 currently implements the encoding of emoji using Unicode characters in the private use area, but not the same private use characters as the NTT DoCoMo Pictographs standard.

So it would seem that, to cut a long story short, Apple’s emoji are directly incompatible with every other handset in the world.

According to Apple, Softbank doesn’t even do translation for iPhone SMS to other Japanese handsets. It will however, translate emoji in emails, but only if you have a Softbank email address and SIM.

And because the rest of the world doesn’t have handsets that work with emoji, that’s why Apple only enables the emoji keyboard for phones with Softbank SIMs.

Still, it wouldn’t be too difficult to write a script to support emoji characters in your web app, supporting both NTT DoCoMo Unicode and Apple Emoji Unicode. Apple have done a nice job with their icons. Interesting times.

Sources:

Save Icon Confusion is reverting?

What shall we do with the drunken save button?

So floppy disks are totally redundant. Very few new computers are coming with floppy drives. Ask a five-year-old kid what each of these things is:

floppy diskcompact diskSD Card

In my totally unscientific research, I asked a mother of a six-year-old if her little boy would know what these three things were:

CDs: Yes.
Memory Card: Yes.
Floppy Disk: Probably not.

So what did software developers do? Look for a new replacement.

The past

Microsoft Office X for Mac (2001) has used a ZIP disk:
Excel save icon

NeoOffice 2.x for Mac took me a while to figure out… Something akin to the Windows and OSX icon for Removable Drive?

NeoOffice save icon

Why did they have to confuse me?

The Steam Train Comparison

My reaction to this confusion was ‘why change it?’

In New Zealand, and as it turns out, Italy and Sweden, our road signs that say ‘railway level crossing’ look like this:

Railway Crossing sign for New Zealand

(courtesy ltsa.govt.nz)

But hold on, that’s a STEAM train! These trains are not around any more except for in museums and… children’s books. Of course, we all know that this sign is a train. Digging further, it turns out here in New Zealand we have a sign for ‘light rail level crossing’:

Light Rail level crossing

(courtesy ltsa.govt.nz)

What the hang is that… I guess it kinda looks like a train, but it’s electric, but it could be a tram.. huh… *SMACK!* Your car just got hit by an oncoming TRAIN. Talk about confusing and potentially fatal. Luckily, I’ve only got my learner driver’s licence, and I haven’t ever seen this sign in use.

My point is why change something that works?  Luckily, developers have caught on that the floppy disk is an international symbol:

The Present

OpenOffice 3.0 Beta has a floppy disk:

OpenOffice 3.0 Save Icon

And thankfully, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac has switched back to a floppy disk:

Excel 2008 save icon

Here’s the cincher: Google Docs, a web application that doesn’t even have access to your local computer still uses the floppy disk for its save button:

Google Docs save icon

Curious and Curiouser

Looking for further examples, I dug around. It turns out many applications don’t even have save buttons any more. Apple’s iWork doesn’t have a save button in any of their applications tool bars; you can’t even customise the tool bar to put one there either! I guess these applications are expecting you to memorise the more universal shortcut of Command+S or Ctrl+S

Conclusion

I think that we should stick with the floppy disk. It’s recognisable by all us old timers, but I think that young ones who haven’t seen a floppy disk will still know that it means ‘Save’.

But then again, isn’t just using the keyboard a lot quicker?

The Age of Expertise

After reading Andy Oram’s post on O’Reilly Radar What comes after the information age, I was struck by the fact that because I’m a tutor, I might be in the right industry!

Andy makes a case that because we have ubiquitous free documentation, in the form of text-files, wikis, videos, how-to websites, screencasts and readily available specialist books (from O’Reilly no doubt), information is no longer the problem any more. Expertise is the new scarcity. Mentors and tutors and guides and people who know how to do things is the problem now.

I have a lot of industry contact in my tertiary level tutor role at Natcoll, and I keep an eye out on the jobs available in the web development industry in Wellington that my students can go into. That’s all well and good, but we’ve had organisations like mine are having a hard time finding highly skilled staff to relieve classes and even take on full time roles, and I understand it is the same at our different campuses around New Zealand — there are just not enough people who want to get into upskilling people up. There’s no shortage of people wanting to learn the ins and outs of design and development though, with no sign of slowing.

Teach NZ is always advertising on TV and on the Wellington buses for graduates who might want to take up Secondary School teaching (high school age for you non-kiwis). Now teaching in a secondary school is not for the faint-hearted, guaranteed. But what about universities? You’d probably need to have a Masters before you could get a good job teaching at a university.

There are other ways we learn other than attending institutes too: one-on-one mentoring, attending short courses, night classes, special interest groups (SIGs) including software user groups. And then there’s the communities on line too!

So why is teaching not a popular choice?

Why aren’t many people taking up the challenge of teaching? Do the people who think they want to be a teacher end up going to teacher’s college and having the life force sucked out of them? One friend of mine has a science degree and went to a teacher’s training college here in Wellington to become a teacher, went into a high school to teach physics and science and then after doing that for a year or so, switched careers! The challenges of high school teaching aside, he said he didn’t like it. Why? I don’t know, but I’ve got some ideas.

Teaching is a selfless job. You’re there as a servant. You serve the students concepts and information, challenging their pre-conceptions and assumptions, with the goal of them ‘getting it’; seeing the cogs in their heads suddenly mesh, and switch into gear and take off!

At least, that’s why I do it. And I’m not even formally trained as a teacher. All I have is a few years industry experience and a passion for being the best I can be at what I do. And I teach so that I can change the world I live in.

The internet is sometimes called the largest and most successful collaboration between individuals and organisations in the history of the human race. The internet was created so people could communicate over long distances. So they could share ideas and discuss the implications of what they were working on or what they themselves had discovered.

Specifically, I teach web development so that it can make the internet a better place. If that previous paragraph doesn’t sound like something to spend time understanding and improving, then let me know why you think so.

I could get a career as a web developer out in the industry tomorrow; there are plenty of jobs for the people who can do things out there.

But there aren’t enough people shaping those ‘do’ers.

There aren’t enough ‘teach’ers.

There aren’t enough specialised teachers. Well at least in the web industry there’s not. Not enough people teaching the hard stuff that requires masses of prerequisite knowledge. Even though the Web is just under 15 years old, the amount you need to know to make a successful website, or even a successful online community is tantamount to experience.

If you want to create a website these days, you have to know HTML, CSS, Javascript, a server side language such as PHP, Ruby, Perl or *shudder* ASP or similar. You need to understand the design and implementation of databases and how to use SQL. You need to have an eye for design, usability. You need to have a mind for communication and writing. You need to understand the human-computer interface and it’s strengths and weaknesses and how to wield these things.

Being a web guy is hard work. Still, web developers, even ones who are good at what they do, don’t get the industry recognition they deserve: a web developer or web designer (but not a ‘web decorator‘) will get paid less than a traditional ‘software developer’ who is making applications for Windows or services for the back office. But a web developer or web designer might have to a lot more than a traditional ‘programmer’.

And that prerequisite knowledge stack is only getting larger by the day! The most published thing online (other than cat pictures and pornography) is in my opinion information about the internet itself. There are tons of sites out there detailing the technologies I allude to above.

There’s lots of information online about what we web developers do. Freely available, just waiting for you to read it, if you so desired. But I believe there’s not enough people who are making it their life’s mission to mentoring and teaching and guiding individuals through this jungle of things out there waiting to be discovered.

You can go to Te Papa by yourself and see the Britten motorcycle. But that doesn’t mean you can go to Te Papa by yourself and learn about the fascinating story behind it.

But if you have a guide, they might be able to point you in the right direction.