But What of the Little Guy?

With Apple's announcement that Macworld 2009 would be their last, the Apple news sites are awash with discussion of what it means for Apple and whether IDG will be able to hold another Macworld conference without their participation. Many have pointed out that Apple doesn't need Macworld to promote their products, especially since they are clearly moving deeper into the consumer electronics space where mainstream media reports their new products and their core users are no longer Mac fanboys. They have noted that being tied to a January date to be expected to announce new products is damaging to their stock price, their products and their personal schedule. They have demonstrated that they can hold small, product specific launches in Cupertino and get just as much coverage at a lower cost. So it makes sense for Apple to pull out of Macworld, but what are the ramifications for the smaller exhibitor? The hype that surrounds Macworld each year ensures that the tech press is sharply focused on Apple for the first week of the year, which gives the little guy a chance to get their product in the limelight. People like Delicious Monster pretty much made their business on the back of the glowing reviews surrounding their product at Macworld. In 2009, Things will get its official launch at Macworld and will no doubt garner many a virtual column inch. Boutique iPod case manufacturers get a chance to show off their products to millions around the world if the likes of Engadget takes a fancy to their wares. Macworld is unique in trade shows where the focus is less on putting companies in touch with distributors and retailers and more on letting the end user see what you produce via the blogs, rumour sites and tech reviewers who are all out in force at Macworld. Assuming that the conference does manage to struggle on for another couple of years, what coverage is it really going to get without the juggernaut that is the Apple speculation machine drawing the press to the hallowed halls of Moscone West? Where will these small developers of awesome apps, beautiful accessories and crazy dock-connecting gadgets get a chance to have their fifteen minutes? Apple may not be losing out by their withdrawal, but the ecosystem surrounding them could be in for a rude awakening.

SXSW 2009

Much as I would love to be going to SXSW 2009, it really isn't on the cards (unless some kind organisation would like to sponsor me to go), but there are several people I talked to at last nights Open Coffee who really were interested in attending but wanted to be able to organise a more group-like contingent, partly for the company but also to make their presence more effective. Given that www.nicreatives.com has the intention of enabling exactly this sort of thing, a page has been set up there for people to register their interest and get some preliminary discussion going about who plans to attend. www.nicreatives.com/sxsw-2009

Twitlonger

It's no secret that I love Twitter. I get withdrawal symptoms when it goes down and it is one of my primary methods of communication. I also love how it forces you to be concise, to reduce thoughts to the minimum required to convey information. Sometimes though, just sometimes, 140 characters really isn't enough. Anyone who has found themselves in a theological or technical discussion knows that it is difficult to convey information in 140 characters. Sure you can email, but you then lose the social network advantages of having the discussion on Twitter in the first place. You can also spread your thoughts across several Tweets, but this is both disjointed and slightly spammy to anyone not involved in the conversation. So, I've made Twitlonger. Think of it as Twitpic for text. You can jot down those longer thoughts and it will generate a truncated Tweet, with a link to the full message. You get the advantages of staying (relatively) within the Twitterverse, but also get to explain things properly, where necessary. Isn't this open to abuse? Yeah, that is a worry. People could just use it to be very lazy and not be succinct, but hopefully it will be used sparingly and when appropriate. More information on the how and why is at www.twitlonger.com/about.php. Currently, I'm running Twitlonger in closed beta, hopefully to catch any glaring problems, but if you want an invite code, tweet me: @stuartgibson.

Twitguistics

Anyone who has spent time on Twitter knows the pain of making longer messages fit within the 140 character limit. You search desperately for those extra one or two characters you can drop. You invent new contractions. Heaven forbid, you may even resort to '1337' speak or txtmsg. Sometimes though, even these capitulations are not enough and you have to resort to what I am calling "Twitguistics"; the art of carefully massaging a Twitter message so it fits in 140 characters, usually denoted by slightly odd phrasing. These tweets should still be grammatically correct, yet are characterised by repositioning words to a position they normally wouldn't occupy. Take this example:
@pauljholden It's just a distraction. You must focus on the things you want to do. What will make you feel more satisfied at evening's end?
Normally this sentence would end "at the end of the evening?", but rephrasing it as "evening's end?" saves you a useful 13 characters and brings you under the 140 character limit. These linguistic acrobatics have become commonplace as Twitter slowly replaces all other forms of communication.

I Met Stuart - Bugs and Critique welcome

www.imetstuart.com

It started with a Tweet from @gracesmith (www.postscript5.co.uk / www.cssloaf.com) who linked to a great idea by Matt Buchanon on what to do if you're out and have forgotten business cards. Have a nice, easy to remember, domain that does nothing but host an online version of your business card. So now, www.imetstuart.com is online. Because it's shiny and new I really like it at the minute. The higher up the browser food chain you get the better it looks as it employs some nice CSS3 rounded corners and drop shadows. The absolute positioning for the speech bubble doesn't work on IE6 and it isn't important enough to try and fix - the sort of people that will be getting the address are most likely Safari or Firefox users anyway. The whole thing is valid XHTML  and mostly valid CSS (sily -webkit and -moz for rounded corners) and it looks fine across IE6, IE7, Firefox 3, Safari 4 and Opera 9.5 as far as I have tested. If anyone encounters any showstoppers or something that looks odd, let me know. If you have any suggestions for improvements or general critique, let me know.

Eyecandy 1 - In the Wild

Download Eyecandy 1 - Masked Marshal Digg it
Download from the iTunes App Store
First off, congrats to @pauljholden, @philiporr and @cimota for getting this through the app store, they deserve it for what they've had to deal with so far. But what of the app itself? It's pretty much completely awesome. I let Sakura play with it this morning on the way to school and she has declared it to be "really fun". She was immediately at home with the interface and was soon happily flicking back and forth and looking "under" the artwork. I have a feeling she will be using the pencils to copy the art this afternoon. Of course, once I showed her how she could paint it herself, she didn't want to go into school anymore. The whinnying pony was just the icing on the cake. Without doubt, her reaction to Eyecandy completely validates the principles behind it and I have no doubt that, even if I wasn't wanting to support the guys at Infurious/Blue Pilot, this would be a monthly/weekly purchase. If you have a kid, you need to buy this. If you like awesome interfaces, you need to buy this. If you just want to support some local talent... you get the idea. Any complaints? Couple of minor things. In the colouring pallette I would really like to see a "fill" option, as any sort of accuracy is difficult, though this is a limitation of the finger touch interface rather than the app itself (and I still want black to colour with). Also, the colours are possibly a little too "pastel" instead of the rich and vibrant colours in the comic itself. What I feel is the biggest issue is indirectly an interface one. Although it is a perfect interface and completely natural to use, the very fact that it introduces functionality that is completely impossible to implement in its real world counterpart means that there is no expectation of revealing the lines. Without knowing in advance that you can push down to see the ink and pencil versions, the only way to discover it is if a swipe accidentally uncovers the functionality. This is a minor thing and most people are likely to stumble upon it just from using the app, but it could be easily fixed with an initial "how to use" screen, with the option to "Do not show this again". I would hate for anyone not to see what is a fundamental part of the experience. But, to be honest, these are nitpicks. For the first version of comic reader (at least in the wild) it is a triumph and hopefully it will catalyse some disenfranchised artists to come to the team with ideas of content they want to distribute. When Sakura gets home from school I'll try and get a quick video of her playing with the app and giving her impressions.

Liveblogging (sorta) the Apple Store opening

8:52 The entire staff just walked down the queue screaming and hi5ing 8:43 Wow, there are a lot of staff. Just brought down the boxes of t-shirts. 8:34 Press are inside and/or interviewing the queue. Much consternation that @alaninbelfast got in early. 6:06am Matt & Paul have arrived bearing gifts of t-shirts and comics while recording peoples reactions to Murderdrome. 5:54am Arrived shortly after 5am to find a few brave souls that had spent the night. First pics below
Liveblogging (sorta) the Apple Store opening
Liveblogging (sorta) the Apple Store opening
Liveblogging (sorta) the Apple Store opening

Busy and Productive Day

I spent most of today setting up the various access points for my little endeavour to provide a focal point for the Northern Ireland creative community (www.nicreatives.com). At this point, I could go ahead and soft launch the site and start getting some content up. The idea is that there are loads of events going on in Northern Ireland that a lot of people would go to, if they knew about them. Things like Creative Camp and Mobile Monday I only discovered throgh Twitter, so I have to assume that there are a lot of non-twitterers that are missing out. Hopefully, the site will allow people to get information coming to them and help build the community a bit by getting more people talking. We'll see how it goes. The essence of the site is there, but I would like to create a custom Wordpress theme that suits the sites needs better instead of the rather generic (though functional) one I put in place to avoid that hideous blue rounded rectangle that is the WP default. There are few more functional items that need added and I'd like to streamline things a little to cut down on the repetition of adding events in multiple places as well as automate the generation of .ics files for new events, or at least automate the link to Upcoming. I'll take a run through things tomorrow and check it works as I think and then loose it upon the world. If people like the idea and get onboard, I think it could be a success.

Apple Store Belfast

In the happiest news I heard all of today, the new Belfast Apple store is opening this Saturday. Having lived in the wilderness for several years, it is nice to finally have somewhere that both allows me to see all the shiniest of new Apple kit, but also gives the Victoria Centre a raison d'etre. Plans are afoot for a camp out overnight, or at least from early in the morning. Anyone planning on these sort of shennanigans should discuss it at the not-nearly-ready-to-launch-but-what-the-hell NI Creatives site.

Testing Microsoft's Customer Service

This morning my Xbox 360 suffered the infamous RRoD. This is my second time experiencing this wonderful feature, with the first one being exchanged in store under the first year. This one is now under the extended 3 year RRoD warranty so is being dealt with directly with Microsoft. First impressions are good, nice online registration of console and request for repair. They're sending me a shipping box and emailing me a label to stick on it. No silly waiting on hold for a telephone operator, an option to say it was afflicted with red ring syndrome so they didn't request credit card info for the repair. The proof of the pudding will be once it goes away, but most stories seem to be pretty favourable. If I'm really lucky I'll get back a console with HDMI and some quieter fans. To be continued...

Merlin Mann Stops Getting Things Done

I like Merlin Mann. A lot. He's become the geek poster boy for GTD, created the Hipster PDA and promoted the idea of Inbox Zero. So why does he now want you to fuck off?

I like GTD too. A lot. So do a lot of other people. A whole industry has sprung up around the GTD movement, from books and software to consultancy and seminars. And that's Merlin's problem. At what point does GTD become an end in itself, rather than a means to achieve your goals. It is very easy to spend so much time planning to get things done that you never get round to getting things done. You read the books, you buy the software, you block out your time and all of a sudden you life is about Getting Things Done, instead of getting things done. So now Merlin wants people to move their focus back to doing the things they want to do. Whatever techniques you use to get those things done, to be creative, to solve problems, are great, but stop obsessing over the techniques and start obsessing over your goals. I love this approach, I also love that Merlin wants you to spend less time on his site (having a web site is, by nature, at least a little egotistical, so this makes a refreshing change) and more time doing your own thing. 43folders now has an excellent page on how to use 43folders with the first question as follows:
Why am I here right now instead of making something cool on my own? What’s the barrier to me starting that right now?
This could be enough to get you off your arse and back to things that are important to you. I suspect I will use this page a lot. In the meantime, I'm going to focus on a few projects of my own. The NI Creatives site needs to get started and I'm going to be soliciting suggestions from people as I meet them. I could spend time planning it in meticulous detail and it would never get done, so tomorrow I'm going to get a first draft up and running. It can grow from there. I'm also starting out on my Cocoa learning program now my Hillegass has arrived. Every day I'm going to spend at least half an hour furthering my knowledge. So, Merlin, thanks for the inspiration to do my own stuff, now can you help with getting off my arse and getting started? For everything Merlin does (and I particularly recommend You Look Nice Today) visit www.merlinmann.com

Sometimes the Internet fails (or sys-admins do)

I'm not much of a one for TV. There are a few things I've enjoyed, The West Wing, Grand Designs and most things with Gordon Ramsay, but the one thing I pay my license fee for is Top Gear. I'm a bit of a car nut and their style of irreverant humour sits well with my own. With this in mind, you can imagine my excitement to find that Top Gear Live, which had previously been restricted to the MPH show, was going on tour and, more specifically, was coming to Dublin.

We'll ignore for now that the prices are pretty astronomical and move straight to the booking system. Now that any popular show sells out within a matter of hours, sometimes minutes, there was a hard launch time for tickets to go on sale, specifically 9.00am this morning. Like a good, organised boy, I went to the RDS ticket site nice and early to be told I was in a queue (before the tickets went on sale). No problem, I was about number 150 and it seemed to be moving quite quickly. At about 8:40 I reached the front of the queue and was allowed access to the page that would let me book tickets - when they went on sale. I'm not sure how the queue was moving before the tickets were available, but there we go. So, 9:00 arrives and we click book tickets. Fine, please choose the day. Saturday, click book. Database error, including the wonderfully revealing information that the maximum number of 999 connections has been exceeded. Back, try again. Same thing. Once more... "You have been placed in a queue. You are currently 2016 with a wait time of 3 hours. Genius. I phoned them instead. Seriously, they know the system is going to have very bursty traffic. They knew tickets were going on sale for what would obviously be a very popular show, running over four days, with ten actual shows during those days, each with a capacity of around 7000 and their system has a maximum capacity of 999? Someone needs a good DB admin.

Creative Camp and the rise of the new media darlings

I've had an interesting week. Since the 2.0 iPhone software was released I've suddenly discovered a whole new, much more interesting side to Twitter. I blame Twinkle, primarily, because its "nearby" feature has opened a whole world of local Twitterers to me. Northern Ireand can feel a little insular at times, even more so when you are outside the sprawling metropolis that is our capital city, so to find this whole world of other geeky types so close was a revelation. Within a week I had stopped following @kevinrose, @veronica and all the other web 2.0 celebrities and started connecting with real people there was a chance I could actually meet.

As a result of this, in the last seven days I have been to Mobile Monday, Open Coffee and Creative Camp, met a lot of wonderful, friendly people, seen first hand an app that caused worldwide outrage and found myself proposing a site for Northern Ireland Creatives to rally around (we'll see how that goes). But what of Creative Camp? This self-styled "unconference" was, from the point of view of an interested attendee, an undeniable success. The talks were lively and entertaining, the people were happy to strike up conversations with strangers, even the sandwiches were awesome. It was interesting to hear of peoples frustrations trying to deal with funding in Northern Ireland, of taking their ideas and getting them to the wider world. But mostly it was fascinating to see how many people were real self-starters, who weren't prepared to let our geographical location limit them and who see the only way to further Northern Ireland is to get off their arse and make it happen. Clearly, there were a few minor items that could (and will be) improved for next time. The location was ultimately a little small and lacked areas for small groups to sit and brainstorm (the post-it on the ideas wall that said "the most interesting conversations happen between the presentations" or similar) and clearly the chair situation could have been better (though we all mucked in to get it sorted). The most important thing was that people participated, were willing to get out there and do things and for that we should all be grateful. Roll on Creative Camp 2.0

A Proposal for a Northern Ireland Creatives Website

Apologies for the quick and dirty Wordpress, but would like to start getting feedback on this... Executive Summary: To create a site where creatives from all areas, music, art, web development, programming etc., can go to discuss their business, passions and future. To provide up to date information on forthcoming events and news and to nuture a self-promoting community.

Proposed Areas: Discussion forum: Standard discussion forum (propose vBulletin for functionality reasons) Regularly updated news: announcement of forthcoming events, press release information etc. Calendars: subscribable calendars for general and specific areas (one for music events, one for art exhibitions, one for tech events etc as well as an "everything") A "People" section - a list of everyone that considers themselves part of the creative community, with optional contact information etc. The ultimate goal would be to become the goto point for the NI creative scene, bypassing traditional media and to create a self-promoting community. This is a high level overview of my personal reasons and goals for the site and I would love to get input from the rest of the community on what they would like to see, what would be a useful addition to the site and generally any criticism and advice you would like to give.