Inspired by the site over at usethis.com, the following is a brief interview between me and, well, me.
Web Developer, Techie
Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Matt, Husband to Anneka and Daddy to Lily (18 months) and Mia (15 weeks to go). By day I'm a Web Developer for IOCEA.com Ltd, the creators of Cshop and by night I develop my own sites and tinker with my servers.
My personal project, SlickCMS is nearing completion for a public release, over a year after embarking on it. I'm still contemplating going Open Source with it, or simply making it freely available.
When I'm not developing for work or my own kicks, I try to improve my measly XBOX 360 Gamer Score; Fallout 3 is proving to be engaging.
What hardware do you use?
At work, a Dell Optiplex 320 with 2GB RAM and an Intel Pentium D. It has lasted me nearly 3 years of development without any problems. It has 2 Sony 17" LCDs connected to it, with a Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 - an older gaming mouse I found to be perfect for me, a lefty.
At home, a Sony VAIO, again with 2GB RAM and an Intel Pentium (M). It runs Windows 7 fine and my only complaint is the loud fan.
I also run several servers in the loft, including a mini-itx Firewall and an AMD Athlon X2 with 6GB RAM as a Virtual Host.
And what software?
My work desktop and laptop run pretty much the same set of software, with the former using Vista and the latter Windows 7. Visual Studio 2008; Microsoft SQL Server 2008; Office 2007; Notepad++ and 7Zip amongst others.
Browser wise, it's Internet Explorer 8 at work, with Google Chrome at home. I prefer the minimalist approach of Chrome for browsing websites and the Web Developer toolbar of IE8 for development purposes.
The Firewall uses Smoothwall and the Virtual Host uses Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, with the VMs a mix of Server 2003/2008.
Lastly, I am a fan of Star Wars, so my Servers are named after planets: Bespin for the Host; Talus, Hoth and Corellia (amongst others) for the VMs and Tatooine for the NAS.
What would be your dream setup?
At work, a 30" Dell monitor, with the Sonys either side would work well - all powered by a Intel Xenon workstation.
Laptop wise, a bleeding-edge Lenovo, Sony or Dell would be good. Maybe a high-end netbook or lightweight laptop for browsing the Internet when not developing too.
My servers could do with an upgrade and consolidation - there's no need to run all 4 of them 24/7, when just the one with a bunch of Virtuals would suffice.
I used to roll with a desktop at home, for PC Gaming and occasional developing - but have since found a laptop to be ideal for sitting on the sofa whilst coding.
Google's open source Chrome browser has been released!
Naturally, being a web developer I was itching to get my hands on the new browser, mainly to see how it performs compared to the other popular browsers available and more importantly to see if my sites worked well enough to not warrant more browser snagging.
Chrome does have a few flaws, to be expected with a new release - such as the lack of a Google Toolbar, poor accessibility and numerous bugs already spotted by bloggers across the 'net. But, its simplicity and forward thinking more than makes up for it.
Something that Mozilla, Microsoft and the likes are probably kicking themselves about right now, is that Google's Chrome handles tabs independantly - each within its own process. For those of us using 10's (even 100's) of tabs simultaneously, we'll appreciate this feature the most. Ever had numerous pages open at once, only to have one of the tabs crash on you, bringing down the whole browser as it does so? Chrome solves this along with other single-threaded/process issues.
Time will tell if Chrome will build up a user-base to rival IE7, Firefox, Opera and Safari. I'm currently using it alongside Firefox/IE7 at home and may end up replacing the latter permanently if Chrome meets all my browsing needs.
For other developers out there, you'll also be pleased to hear that it uses an existing rendering engine behind the scenes - WebKit (as used by Apple's Safari), which should mean that if you've already checked your site(s) in Safari, then you shouldn't need to alter much else to be Chrome compliant.
Let me know if you're trying out Chrome and if you'll be using it long-term...
Today I was tasked with adding several Social Bookmarking sites to a client's website, at work. Whilst reading through the various APIs for each site, I decided to look at AddThis that I had come across over the weekend.
AddThis saved me 2 days (estimated) development time, by combining all of the popular Social Bookmarking sites in one easy-to-integrate solution. I was so impressed that I decided to add AddThis to slickhouse!
AddThis provides a WordPress plugin from the outset, but I often find plugins to be too restrictive. AddThis is also available as a standard button or a dropdown menu, displaying several options. All 3 options use a new window to display the various Social Bookmarking sites.
I decided to opt for the dropdown, but hard-coded into the WordPress theme files. Firstly, to display AddThis on the main pages, open index.php and add the AddThis code. However, as you'll most likely be calling this code several times on the page, you need to define the URL and Title for each instance of AddThis:
= '<?php the_permalink() ?>';
addthis_title = '<?php the_title(); ?>';
On a single WordPress page (single.php), you can use the default code provided by AddThis easily enough, or use the above alterations - either way will work fine, as you should only be calling AddThis once.
And hey presto - AddThis has been added to WordPress! Feel free to use AddThis to add slickhouse posts to your preferred Social Bookmarking site. Personally, I'm a Digg/Google user.
For Christmas 2007, IOCEA.com Ltd celebrated by organising a driving day at Prestwold Hall, Leicestershire.
I awoke at 6am and met the others outside the office for 6:45am. We drove in convoy to Prestwold Hall, where some of our clients and other colleagues were waiting. By 9:30am we had consumed bacon rolls and cups of tea, ready for the safety briefing.
The 16 of us were then split into 4 teams (of 4!) and we were taken out for the first of our many experiences of the day - a couple of demonstration laps with an instructor. I chose to sit in the back of one of the BMW Alpina's:
The instructor took the first lap easy, narrating the whole way around the circuit - explaining where to brake and turn into corners and where to put the power down. The second lap we were taken faster and it was great to see what a Diesel can do.
After the demonstrations (others were in the 2nd Alpina or 2 x Imprezas) it was our turn to drive the Mini Cooper:
On first impressions, I was really impressed with the Mini's interior and gearbox. After the first lap, I completely understood why many say it handles like a Go-Kart. We had 4 laps total in the Mini, with an instructor telling us the best lines to take in both the Mini and the faster cars that we'd be driving later on.
Then it was onto the Ferrari 550 Marinello. I've always respected Ferraris and admired them and the 550 was no exception:
With a 5.5L V12 the Ferrari screamed around the track - the engine note is amazing, as if Ferrari spend much of their R and D improving it. Once it was my turn, I climbed in and familiarised myself with the interior. The seats were leather with a suede dash - if I recall correctly (most of the time my eyes were on the track ahead) and the gearshift is gated with a large aluminium gearstick.
The Prestwold Hall track itself is quite large - maybe a corner or two shorter than Top Gear's test track. Although our lap times during the day weren't measured, according to one of the instructors the fastest car they've had around it, is Audi's new R8 - in about 1m 8s.
After a brief from the instructor, I was away - heading out of the pits at a snails pace, getting used to the (awkward) gearbox. Compared to the other cars on the day, the Ferrari demands the most input from the driver. The clutch is solid, requiring a lot of pressure to engage the gears. The throttle is extensive, with more travel than you initially think - and the brakes are demanding too.
However, it was as good as - if not, better than you'd imagine a Ferrari to be. 4 laps in the 550 and I was [almost] sold, thinking that the day couldn't get any better. I didn't have any time to read the dials within the cockpit - but the instructors later informed us that everyone hit around 120mph on the back straight in both super-cars.
After the Ferrari, it was time for the Lamborghini Gallardo:
I thought the Ferrari was going to be the highlight of the day, as I've never been a big fan of Lamborghini's. But that all changed after the 4 laps in the Gallardo. I thought the Ferrari sounded great at idle and at speed - but the Lamborghini was in a league of its own. Idling, you could hear the fans cooling the engine by sucking in copious amounts of air. But at full throttle, it screamed with an exhaust note out of this world!
Out of my team, I was the 3rd to drive the Lambo and I struggled to fit in comfortably. Whereas the Ferrari was a bit on the low side, the Gallardo required me to sit lower in the seat, in order for my head (with helmet) to fit in. The seats were once again leather, though in two tone orange/black. The steering wheel was more compact compared to the 550's and the gear shifting was instead operated by paddles on either side of the wheel. This was one of the highlights of the Lamborghini - as I exited the pits, the instructor informed me that to change a gear, I had to keep my foot on full throttle and pull the paddle towards me - as the car would do the rest. And woah, the gear changes were possibly the most fun. Full throttle down the straights, I changed up a gear and the car momentarily engaged the clutch, moved gear and kept the power flowing. As a spectator, the sound from the exhausts as the Gallardo changes gear is amazing.
The Gallardo sports a 5L V10 but feels much tighter and more modern compared to the Ferrari. I can't quite describe it in words, but after driving the two, all 16 of us agreed that we'd drive the Lamborghini home. We even contemplated either distracting the instructors and driving off with it - or going halves on the purchase of one (well 16/ths I guess).
So, I'm going to be trying to re-live my Gallardo experience by playing many computer games, such as Project Gotham.
But, that wasn't the end of the day! After a lunch at a local hotel in town, my team was due to have a ride with an instructor. Whereas the demonstration laps (in the Alpina) were reasonably fast, the fast laps with the instructors were insane. We were taken out in a Subaru Impreza:
This did two things for me - firstly it completely changed my opinion of Imprezas. I saw them as far inferior to the Mitsubishi Evolution, or Nissan Skyline (et al) and as a boy racer's ride. Secondly, the instructor at the beginning of the day, who pressed play on the DVD player for the safety briefing, turned into Michael Shumacher, or Lewis Hamilton.
Whereas our laps in the Ferrari 550 and Lamborghini Gallardo were fast, the laps within the Subaru Impreza (with the instructor in control this time) were insane. We were told to brake at the first brake board in the Mini and the second when driving the Gallardo/550 - but the instructor went past both and barely touched the actual brakes. The Bridgestones screeched as he took each corner as if it was the last, with the rear-end of the Impreza struggling to stay in line. Wow.
It's amazing to think that a standard factory built Impreza can perform like it did, but I was Impressed! Apparently, it'll lap just as well as the Gallardo and 550 around the track when in the hands of the instructors. I recall being overtaken by the Impreza when in both super-cars too.
After the thrills of the BMW Alpina; Mini Cooper; Ferrari 550 Marinello; Lamborghini Gallardo and Subaru Impreza, our team had a 'team building' exercise in a Mini-Moke. Whilst blind-folded, each of us took it in turn to be guided by our team mates around cones. It was a lot of fun and a good way to bring us back down to earth.
Of all the cars we drove, I'll never forget the Ferrari for its name; the Lamborghini for its thrills and the Impreza for having my eyes opened to what fast actually is.
At about 3:30pm we were seated back in the original safety briefing room, for the awards to be announced. Whilst driving the Lamborghini Gallardo, the instructor had a score card and marked us out of 100. I achieved 92/100 (as did many others), but overall my team won the day. My trophy is currently sitting on the mantle-piece, but will no doubt reside on my desk at IOCEA, for all to see.
If any of you are looking for a driving experience, then I think I can speak for all 16 of us and recommend Prestwold Hall. Thanks to our Directors, Derek and Garry for letting us all loose in some of the fastest cars of today!
After using eBay for several years now, both as a buyer and also a seller, we've decided to expand.
A few weeks back I spotted an article on Digg regarding Floppy Discs and all the uses for the [now]useless storage media. As I had a pack of 10 lying around, I made two Floppy Disc pen holders, which turned out pretty well.
Last Bank-Holiday Monday we took a trip to the local market, where I picked up a box of 100 Floppy Discs - the only catch being that they were Pink.
So, if you take a trip to eBay, you'll find our new business venture - a Pink Floppy Disc desk tidy.
If you've got a spare few quid lying around, feel free to place an order (or two). There's just the 5 on there at the moment, but I have enough discs for another 15. If it's completely unsuccessful, then I've also got about 144MB of storage to hand, albeit spread across many useless discs...