Matthew Lang

Freelance web developer specialising in Ruby on Rails

Feb 17th, 2021 · 1 post

Don't forget that text is everything

Graydon Hoare suggests we always bet on text.
Text is the most socially useful communication technology. It works well in 1:1, 1:N, and M:N modes. It can be indexed and searched efficiently, even by hand. It can be translated. It can be produced and consumed at variable speeds. It is asynchronous. It can be compared, diffed, clustered, corrected, summarized and filtered algorithmically. It permits multiparty editing. It permits branching conversations, lurking, annotation, quoting, reviewing, summarizing, structured responses, exegesis, even fan fic. The breadth, scale and depth of ways people use text is unmatched by anything. There is no equivalent in any other communication technology for the social, communicative, cognitive and reflective complexity of a library full of books or an internet full of postings. Nothing else comes close.

Always bet on text
I wholeheartedly agree. You can keep video clips, online meetings, voice memos and all the stuff. Text is the ultimate form of communication.
Permalink / Tags: communication, plain text

Feb 15th, 2021 · 1 post

Hello Dingbats

In a change from my regular Leuchttrum notebooks that I use, I wanted to try something different. Last week I ordered a Dingbats Wildlife notebook.
It’s a bit bigger than the Leuchttrum notebook which I don’t mind. It also includes a single bookmark as opposed to the Leuchttrum’s three. Hardly a deal-breaker as I can add my own bookmarks.

Aside from being eco-friendly, the notebooks come in many colours. 
Permalink / Tags: notebooks, bullet journaling

Feb 13th, 2021 · 1 post

It's been a code and coffee morning

I'm trying to build a bit more flexibility into a Rails application by adding the ability to have multiple widgets on the one page.

From a presentation perspective, the problem looks easy. Any number of widgets for a page can be modelled to be presented as a complete web page. It doesn't matter how the data is put together, e.g. flat files, canned models, hard-coded HTML.

What complicates the problem is how the user creates and manipulates these widgets to their needs. I've seen enough back-end interfaces for various products to know it can be done. The Mailbrew interface, which has similar functionality, is how I want this feature to work.

Instead of sitting at the text editor and blindly coding my way out of this, I've been using my iPad to sketch out a few ideas of how widgets of different shapes will relate to the page, and how a page will assemble these widgets. The problem is starting to unravel now.

Might be time for another coffee.
Permalink / Tags: Rails, coding

Feb 12th, 2021 · 1 post

First paragraph: The Light Fantastic

The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn't sure it was worth all the effort.
    Another Disc day dawned, but very gradually, and this is why.

— The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Permalink / Tags: First paragraphs, books, Terry Pratchett, Discworld

Feb 11th, 2021 · 1 post

Permalink / Tags: The Last Of Us, gaming, TV

Feb 4th, 2021 · 1 post

Got AirPods and macOS? Here's an excellent recommendation from Curtis McHale.
Permalink / Tags: Curtis McHale, Apple

Feb 3rd, 2021 · 1 post

First paragraph: Troy

Troy. The most marvellous kingdom in all the world. The Jewel of the Aegean. Glittering Ilium, the city that rose and fell not once but twice. Gatekeeper of traffic in and out of the barbarous east. Kingdom of gold and horses. Fierce nurse of prophets, princes, heroes, warriors and poets. Under the protection of ARES, ARTERMIS, APOLLO and APHRODITE she stood for years as the paragon of all that can be achieved in the arts of war and peace, trade and treaty, love and art, statecraft, piety and civil harmony. When she fell, a hole opened in the human world that may neve be filled, save in memory. Poets must sing the story over and over again, passing it from generation to generation, lest in losing Troy we lost a part of ourselves.

— Troy by Stephen Fry

Feb 2nd, 2021 · 2 posts

Feb 1st, 2021 · 2 posts

Can SAAS build a better vaccination system?

Deloitte's system to manage the management of vaccination has come under fire for being unusable and in some cases, even abandoned for paper-based solutions.
Clinic workers in Connecticut, Virginia, and other states say the system is notorious for randomly canceled appointments, unreliable registration, and problems that lock staff out of the dashboard they’re supposed to use to log records. The CDC acknowledges there are multiple flaws it’s working to fix, although it attributes some of the problems to user error.

What went wrong with America’s $44 million vaccine data system?
This isn't great for any system that is rolled out for the public to use. But the staggering thing for me is that they were awarded the contract on a no-bid basis as they were the only responsible source to build the system. Also, $44 million should get you a website that doesn't get trumped by a paper-based solution.

Imagine for a second if GitHub had the resources to build this, or even Basecamp or Shopify. Not only do they have the experience of websites that are heavily used every day by millions of users, but they also have the knowledge of building for the public. Their websites are used by millions of people every day, and they have to ensure that design changes need to be clear to the people using it.

Could these companies build a better vaccination system?

Jan 31st, 2021 · 1 post

"The open web we let slip through our fingers"

With the internet shifting into huge companies' hands, we're losing the fight against the open web. Heather Burns reminds us of those times and why it's down to Generation X to fight for that free open internet once more. 
Today’s young tech policy professionals are are, quite rightfully, responding to the only internet in the only world they have ever known. The awful one. The one where the internet was and is a handful of billion-pound companies. The one where the internet has only ever been petrol on a fire. The one where the internet has been essential infrastructure like water and heat, not a thing you had to request and master. The closed internet made for them. Not the open internet I got to make.

Why Generation X will save the web

Jan 30th, 2021 · 1 post

Coffee and calendars

I'm sitting with a coffee and confirming a few dates for the golf club's junior section. It's an Excel spreadsheet with columns for each section in the club and rows for the dates. Finding a date that has the right tee-times available means a lot of back and forward scrolling. I also need to send it back now with a list of my changes, and it may need to be changed again in the future before we publish it. I think I have remembered all the changes I've made.

I'm just wondering now if there is a better way of doing this?

Ideally, I would like a web-hosted solution. This is the work of more than one person. Being able to see who changed what and when would be useful. I've also had an issue with the spreadsheet wanting to save in Apple's Numbers format. I need to export it again and send it back, hopeful that my changes haven't screwed up the spreadsheet. A hosted solution would take the pain out of this.

This hosted solution would then let me search for days where there are times available for competitions. It would let me know which days are completely ruled out due to other competitions and suggest alternative days based on other tee-times that have previously been booked.

Finally, the spreadsheet needs to be imported into a calendar to be published for all members to see. I'm not involved in this part, but I can imagine there must be some form of manual process here. A web-hosted solution would mark the calendar of events as private and only publish when all the events are confirmed and in place.

Does such a solution exist? Probably, in some shape or form. I imagine there must be something out there that works based on multiple calendars with over-lapping bookings for the one venue. I think this is a bit of a niche idea, given the scenario. A standalone product? Probably not. This would be something that would be built within the club's existing venue management system. 

Jan 28th, 2021 · 2 posts

I've been trying to create a page on my website to list a few ideas. After a few iterations on some fairly complicated designs, I've managed to put something together that is simple and easy to update.

Need to see more tabs? Then maybe Vivaldi is the browser for you.

I've already taken Brave for a spin as a replacement browser for Firefox on a Windows laptop. I wasn't completely convinced that Brave was for me. I'm now curious to see Vivaldi can offer.

Jan 27th, 2021 · 2 posts

Tweetbot 6 is here

Tweetbot 6 is here with support for cards and polls, and a new subscription model of $0.99 per month or $5.99 per year. You don't need to take out the subscription model, but it does limit what you can do. 

The trade-off here is that you can take the subscription out for the app and get a chronological timeline with a few added features or use Twitter's own app, which brings with it its own benefits and drawbacks.

After spending more time than I care to admit on Twitter's own client, I've plumped for the annual subscription for Tweetbot 6. Over time I hope that we'll get to see more features added to Tweetbot. 

Why is the UK death toll for Covid so high?

This article on the BBC outlines several reasons why the number of Covid deaths is so high.
There is no quick answer to that question, and there is sure to be a long and detailed public inquiry once the pandemic is over. But there are plenty of clues that, when pieced together, help build a picture of why the UK has reached this devastating number.

 UK Covid deaths: Why the 100,000 toll is so bad
It would be all too easy to point the blame at the UK government for this number. After all, the UK has usually been the last to make changes to restrict the spread of the pandemic.

As the article points out, other factors have contributed to the spread of the virus in the UK. The UK as a location for international travel, an ageing population and the general health of the population are all factors that have contributed to this high death toll.

There's also the complacency of people in the UK that have led to the virus's spread. Scenes of packed streets and outdoor bars when restrictions were lifted were signs that many people didn't take the virus serious enough and put themselves and others at risk.

For me, though, this doesn't absolve the UK government of bearing the brunt of the blame for this high death toll. Poor decision making and leadership have led to too high a death toll, that could have been reduced.

Jan 26th, 2021 · 2 posts

Looking forward to the next episode of The Expanse tomorrow. I think this season's pace has been slower than other seasons, but I'm hoping that it picks up now that we're in the final few episodes of the season.

The return of the sidebar

I remember the days when the blog's sidebar was a treasure trove of information. Who that blogger followed, what categories are in their blog and what else they have on their blog. Having looked at a few blog designs over the last few weeks, it's clear that the blog sidebar is still present in most designs, but the advent of the one-column layout for blogs has definitely made a dent in the popularity of the sidebar.

For a good few years, I used a single column layout on my hosted blog on I did start with a two-column theme, but I eventually settled on a single column theme. The reason for changing to a single column is that I couldn't think of much else that I would put in the sidebar. Now that I'm building the CMS behind my blog though, I can afford to be more selective about what will appear in the sidebar.

I'm keeping it simple for the moment with just a short description of myself and the blog's navigation element. In the future, I plan to add some social media links, other blogs I'm following and a few other widgets. I'm not planning on overloading the sidebar, just hoping to build something in the sidebar that is a little bit different from all other blogs.

Jan 25th, 2021 · 1 post

NFL Championship heartbreak once again for the Packers

Not the results I wanted last night in each of the Championship games.

Heartbreak for the Packers once again. Starting to wonder if there's ever been a better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers with only a single championship title. Anyway, last night's game seems to be a recurring theme with the Packers when it comes to the big game. It was definitely a game of two halves with the Buccaneers being on top in the first half and the Packers rallying in the second half. However, the Packers offence in the second half couldn't capitalise on those turnovers, and the Buccaneer defence was first class.

In the other game, the Chiefs came out on top over my AFC favourites, the Bills. The Bills have been great to watch this season, and the Allen & Diggs combo is one that I hope provides plenty of playoff opportunities for the Bills over the next few years.