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The Hickensian - Jon Hicks' Journal

The Inverted BikeᅡᅠShop

posted: 16 Feb 2012

I loved bike shops as a kid (especially the smell of them!) but we didn’t, and still don’t, have anything quite like this. 718 Cyclery is not only a great retail space, but the whole attitude to building bikes and access to the process is unique and just plain brilliant. I found myself nodding in agreement to everything Joe says.

As for the bike they build in video – gorgeous!

Via twinfish on twitter.


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Insights on Symbol Design - The NounᅡᅠProject

posted: 13 Feb 2012

When I was writing The Icon Handbook, I had my list of first choices for people I wanted to work with. Chris Mills and Owen Gregory for Project Manager and Copy Editor, Gedeon Maheux from the Iconfactory for Technical Editor, and for the foreword… The Noun Project. All of which said yes! I absolutely love what The Noun Project are doing, there isn’t a comparable site for the quality of it’s curated collection of pictograms.

So when I was asked to write a guest post for The Noun Project blog, I was chuffed to bits! The post I’ve written, ‘Insights on Symbol Design’ contains portions from The Icon Handbook (and as such It’s another taster for the book), but was still written more or less from scratch, looking at considerations of pictogram design in particular.

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A hamster in aᅡᅠwheel

posted: 13 Feb 2012

Last Autumn I borrowed a friend’s Turbo Trainer, an odd looking device that allows you to use your bike indoors for training. With the nights getting longer and the weather getting worse, it seemed like a good way of retaining the fitness gains and weight loss from the summer.

My first experience wasn’t that great, rather uninspiring in fact. The bike is locked into a rigid position, there was a fair bit of noise (even though this was one of the quietest ones) and it felt nothing like cycling on a road. For my second session, to a proper structure and keep up the interest, I played a Sufferfest video, which helped a lot. Here’s the trailer for the one I bought, ‘The Downward Spiral‘…

If you’re watching this trailer sitting on a sofa, rather than a turbo trainer and bike, you might chuckle at the music and captions feeling a bit overdramatic. Believe me, it doesn’t once you’re on the bike and you get the instruction to ‘close the gap!’ you go for it. 25 mins later however, there was the strong smell of burning rubber, and lo, I had melted the rear tyre, and the floor was littered with rubber shavings. I’d love to claim this was because I was doing such an intense workout, but I think I’d just set it up with the wrong resistance.

The way around this is to use a special turbo trainer tyre, made of a much harder compound, and the easiest way to do that is to have a separate wheel setup ready and change it over for a turbo session. That means getting another tyre, wheel and cassette! But that’s not all you need, as the you also have to prop the front wheel up, have a fan on to keep cool and protect your bike from the corrosive sweat that drips off you in bucket loads.

It’s an awful lot of faff!

However, it wasn’t until the next ride that I felt the benefit. Just doing two short sessions during the week made the Friday ride much better. In the end though, I decided that getting a turbo trainer was the equivalent of a sandwich toaster – a dust-gatherer after the first couple of uses.

Now we’re in February, and the UK is having an extended cold snap where my usual routes have layers of compacted frozen snow. After falling off my bike last November, which made my ribs sore for weeks afterwards, I don’t fancy the risk, and I’ve finally caved in and got one. It’s always going to be better to riding outside, but for the times I can’t, I can at least do a hamster in a wheel impression.


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Export Illustrator Layers and/or Artboards as PNGs

posted: 07 Feb 2012

I’m getting a lot of ‘Are you still using Fireworks?’ questions recently, and my answer is ‘Not for almost 2 years now…’. I’ve been using Illustrator CS5 solidly ever since, but part of the transition is going from Fireworks Pages/States to Illustrators multiple artboards. Artboards are more flexible, and allow you to have see everything at once, but the built-in options for exporting artboards are limited.

I use this wonderful script, which provides all the settings I could desire, from format to filenaming. Top work!

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Apps of theᅡᅠmoment

posted: 03 Feb 2012

There are a few apps that I’m particularly enjoying using at the moment, so I thought I’d share in case any of them are news to you:

Choosy

Choosy does a seemingly simple task, and does it very well. For a start, it provides a central preference pane to choose your default browser, but its main thrust is letting you choose which browser to open a link in. You can do this either manually via a chooser display (right), or automatically depending on order of preference.

My favourite feature is ‘behaviour rules’. For example, I get emails from Opera’s internal bug tracking system, and I always want to open these in Opera, no matter what my default browser is at the time. I can now do that with one simple rule set up in Choosy!

For someone like me who still uses several browsers (mainly, but not exclusively, Safari, Chrome and Opera) it doesn’t ‘arf make life easier.

Fantastical

Quite simply, the best calendar app I’ve ever used. Its always handy (sits in the menubar), doesn’t have the vulgar leather stitched interface of iCal (yes I know about Busycal) but is small, neat, and made for humans. Yes, it still has an element of skeumorphism, but in my view its done right – just enough to make it feel warm with the distracting superflous details. As well as the mix of traditional calendar and agenda views, it allows events to be added using human language, with the calendar view filtering live as you type, and adding people and locations. Its a joy to use, and I use it as my one and only desktop calendar app.

And then, two well known apps that I continue to enjoy…

Evernote

This is still my central collection source. I’ve tried all sorts of ways over the years, but the Evernote ecosystem of desktop-web-mobile is still the winner for me. Shared notebooks works brilliantly, and they are constantly evolving the UI (such as the recent subtle Notes redesign). It all goes in here – images, PDFs, notes, draft blog posts, anything I want to remember or keep for later. Its my travel diary, design scrapbook, UI library, recipe and notes book. It was invaluable in writing The Icon Handbook:

There’s still a few niggles with Evernote – for example you can now drag a thumbnail out of the app to export it, but it does so in a format that only Evernote can read. Not really export is it? Despite a few niggles like this, I remain a big fan.

Spotify

I’ve had a on-off relationship with Spotify. In general, I treat it as a way of previewing whole albums before deciding whether to buy them, creating collaborative playlists and getting access to a large music library on my iPhone without any syncing woes.

They’ve done a few wonky things recently (such as requiring Facebook to sign up, sharing everything with Facebook by default) and since joining iTunes match (a service that I’m greatly impressed with) the latter reason is less important. However I’m enjoying a great new Spotify feature: Apps. I love the last.fm and Guardian reviews apps particularly, making it an even better place to discover new music.


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Craft, Parenting and Cheese with JonᅡᅠHicks

posted: 01 Feb 2012

Earlier this week I recorded an interview with Chris Bowler for his Creatiplicity podcast. Chris has a very genial style and the whole affair felt very relaxed and enjoyable! Its not just about The Icon Handbook either, we discussed everything from parenting to cheese.

Pop along for a listen!

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Celebrating 10 years of Hicksdesign with The Iconᅡ

posted: 31 Jan 2012

YAY!!!

What a way to celebrate 10 years of Hicksdesign (to the very day) – my advance copy of The Icon Handbook arrives! I’m actually holding it in my hands! It has pages that turn with words (what I wrote) and pictures on them!

It looks and smells flipping’ gorgeous!

Excuse me, I think I need a sit down…

If you’ve been waiting for the print version to be available before purchasing, now is your time to pick up a copy!


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Icon Fonts Followᅡᅠup

posted: 27 Jan 2012

Since publishing a section from The Icon Handbook as part of 24 Ways last December (Displaying Icons with Fonts and Data- Attributes) I’ve been involved in a few discussions regarding its cons, some of which have since gained workarounds, and it felt a good time to do a follow up post.

First of all, its worth mentioning the context of the article – it’s from Chapter 6, where all the various possible methods for deploying icons on the web are laid out. This includes creating icons with CSS, which isn’t something I’d recommend, but just may be a solution for someone out there and work well in a particular context. In the same vein, using fonts to display icons is just one of the options.

Lets go over the 2 cons that keep coming up:

Unicode Mapping

Jon Tan states (rightly) that where matching unicode characters exist, the key should be mapped to that (such as the heart symbol for Favourites). This isn’t a problem with the technique as much as the current implementation of the fonts. Its solvable, although doing so will add an extra layer of complexity in specifying the correct letter. There’s also not going to be many icons that can be mapped of course.

Drew Wilson has improved this situation with his release of Pictos Server – a typekit style hosted service where you can choose only the icons you want in the font, as well as what letter its mapped to. It also helps another issue with the technique – that of icon choice. Adding a new icon to a font is complex work, but with 650 to choose from, its less likely to be an issue.

See also:

Screenreaders speak generated content

Using CSS to insert content has the side effect of the icon letter being read out by screenreaders. Not the worst accessibility issue, but confusing.

However Eric Eggert discovered that this can be avoided with the ARIA attribute: aria-hidden="true". This is required for every instance, but Eric also points out that this can be automated with a small snippet of javascript. Read Eric’s post A better way to use icon fonts.

But…

For me, the biggest issue is pixel crispness. Unless you spend an awful lot of time hinting the font properly, you just won’t get the same crispness that you can achieve with a PNG.

Once everyone has high density screens this won’t be an issue, but in the meantime, I’m thinking more along the lines of SVG Sprites to implement my own icons and gain scalability.


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From a previous life, in Victorian London¬タᆭ

posted: 22 Jan 2012


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McBess Bacon and CheeseᅡᅠMachine

posted: 06 Jan 2012

‘The Bacon and Cheese Machine’ is a collaboration between Illustrative genius McBess and P-G Bikes for Dudes Factory I’m a sucker for art projects like this, and really fancy having a go myself!

This video shows the intricate painting process unfold:


Things I've learnt about cycling in my first year¬

posted: 05 Jan 2012

2011 was the year that cycling replaced the “search for the right media centre” as the main blog topic at The Hickensian. I’ve been pretty much starting from scratch in terms of knowledge, and gleaning information from all sorts of sources.

Here are just some of things I’ve learnt this year:

  • There are Rules. 87 of them in fact.
  • When mucking about with the stem height on the headset (for the purposes of slamming) you need to tighten the top cap before the stem bolts. If you do the stem first, you can’t tighten the top bolt properly and everything rattles. As I find out once, going downhill.
  • The quick release on brakes is great for whipping the wheel off that bit quicker, just remember to put it down again afterwards. As I find out once, going downhill.
  • Cream tyres look great on a retro build, but after a few short rides they look like you’ve wiped your bottom on them.
  • Mudguards and chainguards protect you from muck, but metal ones are a constant source of annoying rattles.
  • When changing tyres or inner tubes, you need just enough puff in the inner tube to give it some shape. Otherwise it gets pinched by the tyre and you get through quite a few inner tubes. I learnt eventuallly
  • You need a good hard tyre to resist punctures, at least 90-100 psi.
  • Just because a saddle is expensive, it doesn’t mean its right for you. Of everything I’ve tried sitting on this year, from Brooks to Fizik, the ones that suit my bottom best are by Charge: the Spoon and Knife saddles. They can be picked up for less than £20, look good and feel great.
  • The day I made my saddle properly level (with a spirit level) was the day I stopped suffering from numb hands on a ride.
  • The most important accessory/thing to take with you is water.
  • Steel may be heavier, but it gives you a nicer, smoothed out ride compared to Aluminium.
  • There are 2 types of SPD cleats/pedals – SPD‘s are small, metal and are intended for Mountain Bike use, whereas SPD-SL‘s are larger, plastic and intended for road bike use.
  • I just love farting around with bikes. Which is why my Peugeot Project from earlier this year is now becoming a Charge Plug inspired single speed project. When thats finished there’ll be another bike project…

I still can’t wrap Bar Tape properly though…


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CyclistsᅡᅠSpecial

posted: 26 Dec 2011

Here’s a great find from the dusty depths of YouTube – a British Transport promotional film from 1955. Not only does this feature Tweed (plus fours much in attendance), cycling, railways and country pubs, it’s also filmed around the area I grew up in Warwickshire.

So if you need an antidote to haggard looking men or hipsters doing trackstands on their fixies*, this is it!

Part One

Part Two

Via the Tweed Cycling Club

*I do love Rapha and fixie videos too, its just that, well, this is the complete opposite.


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The IconᅡᅠHandbook

posted: 20 Dec 2011

The Icon Handbook is now available to buy. Here’s what it looks like:

This is a book that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Whenever I’ve looked for a book on this subject, the only available publications are reference guides that simply reproduce as many symbols as possible. Where books have gone into theory, they were published decades before desktop computers, and therefore miss the most relevant and active context of icon use. Sometimes the topic is covered as a part of a book about logo design, and amounts to little more than a page or two. So I’ve set out to create the manual, reference guide and coffee table book that I always desired.

It’s aimed at designers who already have basic vector and bitmap drawing skills. It could be that you only have to create a simple favicon, or perhaps you’ve been asked to work on a website or mobile app that requires icons. You might usually rely on a resource like a royalty-free icon set, which may provide common icons but probably doesn’t provide everything you need.

This book begins at the point when you need to create your own icons. Its purpose is to guide relatively inexperienced designers through an icon design workflow, starting with favicons and working up to application icons, as well as inspiring and providing a reference point for existing icon designers. It does not set out to teach you how to draw in a particular application. The aim is not to improve proficiency in particular applications but, rather, to show you how to create icons with the common toolset found in most of them, so you can be more versatile.

Here’s what you can find in the Icon Handbook:

Chapter 1: A Potted History of Icons

A short look at the history of icons, focussing on the the last century, and in particular how ‘icon’ came to mean more than religious painting.

Chapter 2: How we use icons

Looking at the uses for icons beyond simple decoration, how they help us navigate, give us feedback and express our mood. It also looks how not to use icons!

Chapter 3: Favicons

Starting with the simplest form of icons, looking at how to get crisp artwork at small sizes and the various ways favicons are used.

Chapter 4: The Metaphor

Working through the process of discovering a metaphor already exist, and how to decide on the right one if there isn’t.

Chapter 5: Drawing Icons

Walking through the drawing process, working with simple pictograms and small colour icons, and looking at the pitfalls on the way.

Chapter 6: Icon formats and deployment

There are many different formats and deployment methods for icons, depending on the context, which can have a bearing on how we create the artwork. In particular I cover all the methods for displaying icons on websites.

Chapter 7: Application Icons

We finish on the largest and most complex of all the icons, which are more often than not, photorealistic works of art.

Appendix

Handy reference, including: Common icon badges, overview of drawing and creation tools and a comprehensive icon reference chart.

Along the way, I talk to icon designers such as Susan Kare, David Lanham and Gedeon Maheux of the Iconfactory and many more about their process behind well known icons.

On top of all that, there’s some jolly nice eye candy in there!

Thanks must go to many people (the acknowledgments is 2 pages) but I must particularly thank the team that put this together at Five Simple Steps, including Emma, Nick and Mark Boulton, Colin Kersley and Sarah Morris. Also to the words team: my project manager Chris Mills, copy editor Owen Gregory, and technical editors Gedeon Maheux of The Iconfactory and inimitable Andy Clarke.

You can purchase the digital edition and/or pre-order the paperback which will ship around 30th Jan 2012. There will also be an accompanying website at iconhandbook.co.uk which will contain reference and code examples from the the book, as well as a blog with bits that didn’t make it into the first edition!


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Availableᅡᅠtomorrow!

posted: 19 Dec 2011

The Icon Handbook is ready and will available to buy tomorrow (Tuesday December 20th), from Five Simple Steps 3pm GMT! You can purchase the digital edition or pre-order the paperback which will ship around 30th Jan 2012. A proper blog post will come tomorrow, in the meantime, I need a good sit down and a cup of tea…


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Higgs-BosonᅡᅠFound!

posted: 13 Dec 2011


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Displaying Icons with Fonts and Data-ᅡᅠAttributes

posted: 12 Dec 2011

Todays 24ways article is Displaying Icons with Fonts and Data- Attributes, taken partly from Chapter 6 of the upcoming Icon Handbook, but rewritten to fit to the 24ways format. Instead of using the traditional route of PNGs, web fonts offer a scalable and resolution independent solution. Combined with HTML5 data attributes, you can create one CSS rule to style them all in one go. This article covers both the advantages and disadvantages of the technique.

Thanks must go to Drew Wilson who helped me understand how to use data attributes. He created Pictos the excellent icon font used in the article, and his experience in making Pictos was a valuable source of research.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, start yourᅡᅠwallets!

posted: 07 Dec 2011

…as we have a date! The Icon Handbook will be available to pre-order on December 20th!

More details will be released shortly, but the Five Simple Steps page has an introduction and table of contents to give you a flavour.


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PatisserieᅡᅠCyclisme

posted: 01 Dec 2011

There is nothing worse than pulling up to an unknown cafe while out on a ride to find they offer poor coffee and stale cake

Patisserie Cyclisme, is THE source of cycling café reviews and they have a rather spiffingly hypnotic new logo!

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It's been quiet around here, but not for much long

posted: 08 Nov 2011

I’ve written my first book!

Its taken even more time and energy than I ever dreamed it would, but yesterday marked the very last chapter passing it’s final stages of being buffed and tweaked into a manuscript that people would actually want to read.

I started planning this book 5 years ago, and only the combination of Five Simple Steps, Chris Mills (A.K.A “Mills of Steel”), Owen Gregory and my technical editor, Gedeon Maheux of The Iconfactory has made it actually happen.

All the icon artists I contacted (bar one – but I shan’t name any names!) were enthusiastic and responsive, which made it a joy to organise. Many responses came with fantastic icon material that hasn’t been seen before – early ideas and process snapshots, as well some yet to be released.

More details of the book will follow soon, but for now, here’s a work in progress of the cover to (hopefully) whet your appetite!


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This is what its allᅡᅠabout

posted: 28 Sep 2011

We’re having a truly Indian Summer here in the UK, and it looks set to continue over the weekend. It gets dark by 7pm at this time of year, so I had to get out early tonight to enjoy the warm rays while they lasted.

This image sums it up for me – riding through pretty countryside, with long shadows and village names that make giggle like a schoolboy.


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Reasons why content doesn't show up on AppleᅡᅠTV

posted: 23 Sep 2011

As the Apple TV doesn’t let you connect a drive directly with your content (it requires a ‘middle man’ of iTunes) getting your content to show up can be a little trying at times. Some of the reasons why it goes wrong are:

  1. The Mac serving the content isn’t on
  2. The Mac serving the content has dropped off the wifi network (happening a lot in Lion)
  3. The Mac serving the content doesn’t have iTunes open
  4. The Mac serving the content has iTunes open, but Home Sharing isn’t turned on (or using the same login as the one specified on Apple TV)
  5. The drive where all the content is stored has become unmounted, so iTunes can’t access it
  6. You’ve remounted the drive, but there’s a bug where if iTunes has tried to play content stored on the network drive, it corrupts the file path data, replacing it with some other obscure file (in my case, it seems to be a photo folder bizarrely)

In short, there’s too much to go wrong, and Apple TV is on the naughty step until these steps can be bypassed without hacks. Rant over.


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Big Innovation Lives Right on the Edge of Ridiculo

posted: 19 Sep 2011

Most people think that the opposite of play is work (especially in the corporate world) but the opposite is boredom or even depression.

Great article about the design consultancy IDEO, and how they use a culture of play to support creativity.

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Microsoft adopt the Open ShareᅡᅠIcon

posted: 16 Sep 2011

I’ve been following the announcements of the new Windows 8 UI (and particularly ‘Metro’) this week with great interest. I think they’ve done a fantastic job with Metro, it really looks like a fresh start UI wise.

One detail stood out in particular. In the screenshots I noticed that they’ve adopted the Open Share Icon in their UI.

To fill you in, the Open Share Icon came about after the original share icon was purchased by the company that provides the ShareThis service. While still licensed for public use, some people felt this wasn’t in the spirit of the thing, and decided to create a completely open version instead. It’s this version that Microsoft has adopted.

So why is this newsworthy? Microsoft did the same back in 2005, when they adopted the RSS icon that Stephen Horlander created for Firefox 1.0. That adoption quickly established it as a standard, and standards are good for everyone. Before long we will think of share as this symbol, without thinking twice.


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Revolights

posted: 08 Sep 2011

Here’s an interesting idea for improving bike lights and night time visibility. Revolights is a Kickstarter Project that places LEDs in a ring around the wheel, timed so that it provides a constant beam lower down, lighting up the road around you:

From the video, I’m not 100% convinced that they’re quite bright enough yet, but to be honest, I adore the effect. Tron light cycle comparisons aside, I’m just a fan of how they look when moving. I really hope this project gets some attention, funding and development – in a few years this might be the kind of thing that gets built into the wheel itself.


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ON YER BIKE: Riding into the hearts ofᅡᅠpeople

posted: 29 Aug 2011

James Styring, an Oxford-based cyclist and cycling campaigner (he runs Cyclox), wrote about my conversion to cycling in his column for the Oxford Mail. Thanks James!

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SafariᅡᅠOmnibar

posted: 04 Aug 2011

Safari Omnibar is a SIMBL plugin for Safari that enables a single addressfield/search bar like Google Chrome’s Omnibox. Its still fairly early days, but it works well, and has just been updated to support search shortcuts:


(the search bar is hidden after installation)


To edit keyword searches, right click the address field…


… and then you can then enter the search keywords

This is of course functionality that’s been available in Opera and Firefox, long before Chrome, but this is a great way for folks that prefer Safari to get it.

Safari Omnibar is hosted on github


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New SkypeᅡᅠEmoticons

posted: 01 Aug 2011

Working with Steve Pearce and Mark McLaughlin from Skype, and genius animator Julian Frost, Hicksdesign has updated the complete set of Emoticons for its desktop and mobile clients. Currently released in the Windows and Android versions, Mac and iOS will follow later.

The brief was simple, update the Emoticon set, providing multiple sizes (20,30,40,60,80px), but retain the style that is already familiar to millions of users worldwide. The original set was designed by Priidu Zilmer and only existed in one size – 19px. An odd numbered grid can allow you to centre elements better, but the decision was taken to start at 20px to allow more straightforward enlargement. This meant some of the basic proportions of the eyes to head had to be changed.

The 20px was the first to be drawn in each icon, followed by the 80px. For the new icons, the Photobooth Reference technique was employed a lot…

My favourite part of the project was seeing Julian give them life, and provide motion that I could never have achieved. That dance icon is a work of modern art. Emo is another personal favourite

In all, there are now 98 emoticons. It’s been a fantastic project to work on, and with superb clients to boot.


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Biologic BikeMount forᅡᅠiPhone

posted: 15 Jul 2011

I’d reached that point in my rides, where I wanted some sort of cycling computer to track my progress and show my route, so I recently picked up a Biologic BikeMount to allow me to use my iPhone. Rather than buy a dedicated unit (such as a Garmin, which isn’t really an option financially at this point) this lets me reuse a device that’s already replaced lots of other separate devices like Camera and iPod. Here are my thoughts after 2 months of use.

The phone gets clipped into a sturdy protective hardcase, which is then mounted to your handlebars via a supplied bracket. I’ll let this chap called Josh tell you exactly how it works:

Together with Cyclemeter, I now have a nice clear display to glance at, at the end of the ride, I export the results to Strava. The dedicated Strava app is nice and clean, but a bit basic. I like the features of the Cyclemeter app, such as telling me how many calories I’ve burned (very motivating for me).

The main disadvantage of this setup is the overall size of the kit. While the iPhone itself isn’t that big, by the time it’s in the protective case it’s got added bulk. At least the case gives me confidence that if it does get dropped, the phone would survive.

I’ve managed to get mine mounted on my stem, so that it keeps it out of the way a bit, but there’s no getting over how much it much it dominates the handlebars compared to a dedicated unit like a Garmin. It might make you feel a bit self-conscious!

Other, minor, negatives points are that the home button is a stick-on dome of plastic, which fell off after a few weeks, just leaving the sticky pad. It still works though. Also, the bracket that you put on the bike doesn’t get absolutely tight. Just as you think it’s going to tighten, it loosens slightly again. So you have to tighten again, and stop just before it ‘snaps back’ to loose. However, I’ve not any problems with it falling off, or being wobbly.

Another reason I got the mount, was that I fancied trying to shoot video to capture some of the picturesque parts of my rides (the case has a window for the lens). First of all, it’s a fiddle to get the bracket and phone in the right position so that the camera has a good landscape view, but it is possible. However, the iPhone camera just isn’t up to the job – the picture is just too shakey. There’s a lot of post-processing apps that will take out the shake, but they crop the image a lot. I did try an app called Steadylens, which works during recording, but that wasn’t much better. The overall effect is what I can only describe as ‘swirly and shimmery’ even at very slow speeds. As if its being viewed underwater:

I also noticed on still images, taken with the phone in the case, that it distorts the image towards the edges.

Despite the size, and other little niggles, the BikeMount, along with Cyclemeter, works really well, and do me just fine.


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Milestones

posted: 12 Jul 2011

Another wee cycling update. It’s now been 6 months since I claimed that I wasn’t interested in being sporty, owning a Road-only bike (I wanted to ride something ‘chap’ and retro), and that I would never touch Lycra with a bargepole, let alone my body.

All that’s changed – I’m now riding a proper road bike (that I’m trying to make as modern as possible), in lycra and wearing SPD shoes. What a difference it all makes though! After a lot of discussion on Twitter on normal shorts vs bib shorts, I got a pair of the former from Shutt Velo Rapide. which are really comfy and no comparison to when I was trying to ride in jeans. I’m realising the advantage of bibs though, as I get do get a cold patch on my back.

SPDs were another big step, but didn’t take as long to get used to as I thought they would and make the difference that everyone has been telling me they do. After a couple of falls on the grass outside I soon got the nack, I got used to getting my feet in and out without looking down. I couldn’t ride any distance without them now – and certainly wouldn’t want to tackle any hills.

Another milestone I passed tonight was my first ride – with someone else. I was very nervous, almost like a first date nervous. Would I hold them up? Would I be a panting wheezy lump at the back? Would I fall over, forgetting to twist my foot out of the SPDs? Actually, I was fine – a little out of breath, but as much because I was trying to chat at the same time.

The advantages of riding with others are well documented, but the biggest difference I felt was in keeping pace. It spurred me on to keep pedalling and try a bit harder. Also, on such a windy night, it was nice to be able to draft behind someone for a bit and feel the reduction in wind resistance.

The biggest problem I find is with getting time to go out riding. I can usually manage an hour a week, and would love to do more, but the spare time just isn’t there. Especially when I’ve got a book to write. However, for the first time, I’m starting to think about group rides and even working up to doing a sportive! I love it.


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A Gentleman's Guide to tying a bowᅡᅠtie

posted: 12 Jul 2011

Conor Whelan’s gorgeous illustration for the 2011 Trinity Ball Magazine. Browse the rest of his excellent work while you’re there!


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FiveᅡᅠDetails

posted: 24 Jun 2011

It’s all too often the case that as soon as a project is finished, I’m on to the next one in the queue, without any time to stop. I’m sure others know this feeling – there’s no time to reflect and blog about the work you’re doing. So here starts the catch up…

Back in April, a project I was involved in was finally launched, the new Identity and website for Five Details, previously known as ExtendMac, whose “Flow”: FTP client won a Runner up prize in the prestigous Apple Design Awards in 2008. Brian Amerige, who created Flow was getting ready to release a new iOS app called Seamless to coincide with the relaunch, and Hicksdesign were bought on board to create a new identity and website.

After a few different explorations, we settled on the simple logo of the 2 ‘D’ shapes that together form a ‘5’ in the negative space:

The logo has white and orange variants, working on either a white or dark background, as well as ‘layered’ version, for use in backgrounds:

Brian and I discussed suitable type treatments, and I felt that LFT Etica was the right fit for this project. It needed to be a clean sans-serif that would work well bold, but with some individuality. I particularly loved how it looked reversed out of black. Brian and I were both keen, and the fact that it was available to use on the site via FontDeck sealed the deal.

A logo can never be designed in isolation though, so as soon as these initial ideas were approved, work on the website began. The key requirement here was the app name was the most important element of the page – the Five Details branding and navigation was secondary to this. Therefore it made sense to place this at the bottom as fixed footer.

(I didn’t work on the app icons by the way: the Seamless icon was created by Woflgang Bartleme, while Flow was created by Sebastiaan De With)

In terms of media queries, this site doesn’t feature the whole gamut of layout possibilities, but it was clear that optimised views for iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad were needed. Following the idea of 320 and up, the stylesheet starts with the narrow view, and then the ‘desktop’ version is added via media query. This prevents mobile devices from loading the larger images. The iPad is a different context though, and it gets the full css, plus a few other rules to optimise it. As Mobile Safari still doesn’t support position:fixed, the nav is placed at the top using position:absolute.

One thing I always find a bit challenging is how to arrange navigation for a smaller screen, such as maximum width of 320px. There’s not usually enough room for a horizontal navigation, and as Stu Robson points out, it pretty much takes up the whole screen when it’s vertical.

My solution was to place the navigation last in the markup, so that while the ‘normal desktop view’ fixes this to the bottom of the viewport, the iPad has it at the top, and the smaller iPhone view has it as footer.

It makes extensive use of the background-size:cover property to make background images scale to fill the background proportionally, while still filling the viewport. One thing I found with this was that Firefox and Opera didn’t like you to have a differenr shorthand ‘background’ declaration in conjuction with it. In order for it to work on those browsers, all the background properties had to laid out individually.

I also wanted to mask off the bottom the site, where it goes underneath the navigation. I tested this using webkit-image-mask initially, and then replaced this with a fixed position image. This is straightforward on the plainer colour backgrounds, but for pages such as the About section, where there is a large black and white photo, I had to create a special mask with the bottom portion of the photo, adding the same background-size:cover CSS to make it work.

Here’s the mask:

And here it is in place:

Fiddly, but worth it in the end!

To finish, I’d like to say how marvellous it was to work with Brian on this project. He had constructive insights on the design, and while we went through a number of iterations, the end result is all the better for it. Brian was also someone who listened, and it made for a very happy relationship!


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The BicycleᅡᅠCap

posted: 10 Jun 2011

Here’s a lovely little film for your Friday pleasure. With a distinctly Wes Anderson feel about it, it tells the story of what happens when a bicycle and a sewing machine get together!


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TheᅡᅠSetup

posted: 09 Jun 2011

Daniel Bogan asked me a few weeks ago about what hardware and software I use, as part of ‘The Setup’. My interview is now live, but looking back my responses sound a bit clipped! Sorry about that.

I also mention how I’m waiting for cloud services to mature. Since the interview, Apple announced iCloud, but this still doesn’t go far enough yet, and as I mention, it’s as dependant on the networks used to access it as much as the server serving it. Anyway, it’s another step in the right direction, so maybe it won’t be that long until I can ditch upkeeping a local NAS drive with all my movies and music?

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Removing MLB from the Apple TV 2ᅡᅠmenu

posted: 08 Jun 2011

If like me, you have no interest in MLB, will never use it, and would rather you didn’t have it so prominent in your Apple TV menu, this tip is for you.

It’s a bit of a rigmarole, but if you’re really keen to remove it, here are the steps you need to take:

  1. First of all, if you haven’t already done so, jailbreak your Apple TV with Seas0n Pass
  2. ssh into the Apple TV (in something like Transmit, Flow, Cyberduck etc.) using apple-tv.local as the server, root as the username, and alpine as the password. You can of course do it Terminal, using ssh root@apple-tv.local but I find the file editing part a right faff personally!
  3. Navigate to /private/var/stash/Applications/AppleTV.app/Appliances/Internet.frappliance
  4. Open info.plist (I used xcode)
  5. Find ‘FRApplianceCategoryDescriptors’, and delete Item 1, and save.
  6. On the Apple TV, restart lowtide via Maintenance > Settings (or just pull the plug out and pop it back in again)

…and it’s gone!


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A Little TeaᅡᅠExperiment

posted: 02 Jun 2011

Tea drinking peoples of the internets! Here’s a little experiment I’d like you try next time you make a cuppa with a tea bag. If you’re strictly loose-leaf, then this test isn’t going to be for you, but for the rest of us, give it a go and see if you think it tastes any better.

First boil a kettle of fresh water, so that it is has oxygen. Reboiled water loses it’s oxygen and therefore doesn’t brew properly. Then, here’s the bit I want you to test…

Dribble the boiling water onto the tea bag from at least a foot away. The smaller the amount of water the better. This should then make the brew very bubbly – mixing in more oxygen, and hopefully improving the brew.

Next time you make a cuppa, have a go and let me know via Twitter if you think it made any difference!


Authentic JobsᅡᅠUK

posted: 25 May 2011

Aside from “Will you ever do a theme for GMail?” and “Know any good Penny Farthing Emporiums?” the questions I get asked the most are “Do you know of any jobs?” or “Can you let people know about this job?”. I help where I can in getting word out.

It’s natural then, for Hicksdesign to snap up the invitation to be a part of the new UK division of Authentic Jobs. Along with Elliot Jay Stocks, Sarah Parmenter, Floris Dekker, we will be joining the existing Authentic Jobbers showing the latest vacancies on our blogs, and broadcasting the occasional tweet.

There’s also the chance to win an iPad2 with a (RED)™ cover, just by posting a job listing, tweeting one, or spreading the word about Authentic Jobs UK. Have a look at Touchscreen Tussle for details!


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ProjectᅡᅠPeugeot

posted: 24 May 2011

I mentioned a while back that while I’ve been enjoying the Globe for its comfortable, relaxed style, I’d been thinking of getting a proper road bike for weekend and sunny evening jaunts around the countryside. Not being able to justify the cost of a new bike just yet, and heavily inspired by Simon Clayson’s Peugeot 753 project, I spent a while watching items on ebay, looking for a suitable basis for a project bike. Ideally I was looking for something with a classic style frame with flat top tube that was rideable from the off without needing too much work. I knew that it would probably be something that would need a respray and work done further down the road, but it would allow me to find out if a road bike was ‘for me’, without spending too money up front. If it did work out, I could improve and upgrade it and spread the cost out over time, but if it didn’t, no big loss.

Finally, the ideal candidate turned up, and it was another Peugeot:

Looking back through old Peugeot catalogues, it turns out that it was from 2000, making it about 11 years old.

What made it particularly appealing was the quality Columbus Thron steel frame and silver Campagnolo Veloce groupset. The frame colour was already black (which was exactly what I wanted), so even though it would need a respray at some point soon, it didn’t need to happen right away. The general condition was OK, and it didn’t need any drastic intervention up front.

The initial plan was to make this a retro build, with chrome handlebars (Nitto Noodles), Brooks Honey Leather Saddle and bartape. Here it is in this unfinished half-way stage:

However, after a few weeks I realised that I’d changed my mind, and that my heart was really after something more modern. After all I already had the retro styled Globe Daily. So after some rethinking here’s what it looks like now:

So far I’ve replaced:

  • Front tyre: removing the old yellow stripe type helped tidy up its looks immensely.
  • Pedals: Shimano A530, which have cleats on one side, and normal flat pedal on the other, so that it can be used for commuting as well as road riding. I haven’t got SPD shoes yet, and I’ve got use to flipping the pedals with my foot to get the flat side
  • Saddle: Charge Spoon, which is great value
  • Handlebars and Stem: This was the biggest change. I found the reach and shape of the Modolo bars it came with hard to use, the brakes and shifters felt too far away. Then I tried Nitto Noodle bars, which have nice swept back tops, but the reach was still quite large. Now that I’ve swapped it for a Deda RHM 02 bar (much shorter reach) and slightly shorter matching stem I’ve got it how I need it. In order to fit the Deda stem I needed a quill stem adaptor, but it works really well. I finished this off with some Fizik gel pads and bartape for a comfy hold. This was really nice, but I found the strips that they supply to tape down the ends at the centre not very flexible, and didn’t make a smooth end. I changed this for plain black insulation tape which works much better.
  • I also removed the 90s style graphics, using a hairdryer to soften the adhesive and a credit card to scrape it off, leaving just the Peugeot logo.

Overall, it’s cost me just over £200 for the original bike, plus all the additions (some of which were new, some nearly-new off ebay). I’ve learnt a lot by doing this, but I’ve had to ask lots of questions and some trial and error before getting this far, so thanks again to Simon Clayson, Matt Carey and Tim Barry for putting up with all my questions.

So was a ‘proper road bike’ for me? Undeniably yes. After just 2 weeks of using it, the Globe feels slow in comparison. I never thought the bike would make that much difference, and that personal fitness was a bigger factor, but now I can see that the bike can make a big difference too. I’ve had great fun riding this around local villages, increasing my mileage and how long I can go without stopping for a breather. It’s also been a fun geeky journey choosing parts.

As funds allow I plan to respray it and upgrade the wheels, but a more immediate task will be to replace the chain and clean the mucky drivetrain. I’m also starting to realise why cyclists wear lycra, and I’m coming around to the idea. Slowly, but getting there…


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RaphaᅡᅠFilms

posted: 23 May 2011

Recently, my favourite place to spend time on the internets has been the Rapha Films channel on Vimeo. These high quality short films are not only inspiring and enthusing, but beautifully shot, edited and scored too.

It all started with their Rapha & Paul Smith promo video:

Which was followed up by ‘City Riding’ (both featuring the can’t-help-but-want-to-imitate Cole Maness):

Then there is Rapha California, which if you ignore the anti-helmet sentiment, is brimming with atmosphere:

All three directed by Ben Ingham, with brilliant sound design by Soundfly.

I could go on, embedding just about every video they’ve uploaded, but instead, I’ll mention 3 more. Two Broad Arrows a short film inspired by the life of Sean Kelly, Rapha Rides Monti Pallidi and the Tour of California series, starting here. If you’re a cyclist then you’ll no doubt already be aware of these films, but worth highlighting for anyone who hasn’t.

The Vimeo app for Boxee is currently crashing on me a lot, so I’ve been watching these on Apple TV via Couchsurfer (yes you can Airplay from iOS too). It would be great if Apple could open up apps for Apple TV and get the same slick experience that YouTube videos and Podcasts get.


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ATV Flash and Boxee 1.1

posted: 22 May 2011

Two media-centre related things I’ve done recently: Jailbreak my Apple TV to install ATV Flash Black, and update my Boxee Box to v1.1. Heres how it went:

First the ATV: When the beta of ATV Flash Black was announced last December, I looked into and disregarded, the jailbreak process. Too much hassle if you had updated your ATV from the factory supplied version. Now, the process is straightforward with Firecore’s Season Pass app and a micro-usb cable. Likewise, installing ATV Black was easy when following the instructions, and I was able to add extras onto my Apple TV.

The result, I have to say, was promising, but not wildly exciting. I had hoped that Coachsurfer (the Browser) would allow me to use BBC iPlayer, but sadly, videos wouldn’t play. Vimeo did work well however! The Plex client and Media Player work OK, but they are in Alpha, with playback issues ranged from taking an age to buffer, quitting mid-play and stuttering on high res files. What I really liked though was the Last.fm plugin which was a joy for playing my ‘recommend artists’.

Overall, worth a look, but I’m undecided whether it’ll be worth keeping up with the updates.

On the flip side though, installing the 1.1 update on the Boxee Box has invigorated it. The UI has seen some refinement, and it’s all the better for it. Gone is the murky background, replaced with a rich, dark starry sky reminiscent of the v0.9 backdrop. Simple thing, but it makes such a difference. The typeface is improved (if a little tightly spaced) and the section icons are simple, but no longer over-simplified. This is just the tip of a raft of the many improvements and fixes that make the Boxee Box feel like its fulfilling it’s original promise. Along with the impending announcement of UK content providers, things are looking up! Hurrah!

(Music is still shunted off into a ‘files’ menu sadly…)


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How to survive as a colourblindᅡᅠdesigner

posted: 05 May 2011

…It’s a question that pops up every now then. Another designer with colourblindness asks me what techniques I use to work around it. I hesitate to ‘play the CB tambourine’ yet again, but for those that struggle with it there are 3 things I rely on a lot (apart from discovering HSL colour):

  1. Ask people. If I’m ever not sure of a colour I’m using, or being asked to use, I ask someone that isn’t colourblind. That’s usually either Leigh or one of my studio mates at No73.
  2. Steal other colour schemes. If you see something that works, nick it. Get something like the indispensable ColorSnapper and grab the colour values of things you like (as well as tell you what colour something is)
  3. Don’t be afraid to use black and white with one accent colour

Nothing is foolproof, and remember that everyone sees colour differently anyway :)


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Doctor Who Season 6ᅡᅠCalendar

posted: 26 Apr 2011

In all the recent busyness I haven’t had a chance to let you folks know that I’m still updating the Dr Who Calendar Feed for Season 6, letting you know when the episodes are on BBC1. As I find out episode titles and broadcast times, I’m adding these along the way. This season is a little unknown, as the episodes are being split into two – the second half being show in the Autumn, so this only covers the first half for now.

Note that Episode 3 is being shown at the slightly later time of 6:15pm – it wouldn’t be Dr Who if they weren’t messing with the schedules every week…


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Polygraph

posted: 20 Apr 2011

Polygraph is a lively new typeface from PintassilgoPrints that’s just bursting with character. It’s inspired by polish artist Leszek Zebrowski’s poster work, but I see echoes of Rennie Mackintosh’s hand lettering style in here too. Whereas official Mackintosh typefaces (and my own amateur contribution Hill House) are very clean and rigid, Polygraph carries the expression of artists hand really, really well.

Packed with eccentric alternates, it is an all-caps font with four exchangeable variations for each letter. These alternates are programmed to cycle when the font is used in OpenType-savvy programs, creating a random effect on glyphs distribution. The resulting pieces are truly outstanding, with an audacious handmade twist.

I’ll be looking for somewhere that I can use this…


TheᅡᅠRam

posted: 13 Apr 2011

I’d be the first to admit that the geekery of bike components appeals to me as much as the actual cycling. As the author Robert Penn says It’s all about the Bike. I’m currently fiddling away on a road bike project, using a 10 year old Peugeot picked up off ebay as the basis, and choosing replacement parts is great fun.

My tastes started off retro, or ‘vintage’ as the cycling crowd would call it (retro to them means the ’80s), preferring steel, honey brown leather and highly polished metal. Recently though, I’ve been getting into the look of more contemporary parts just as much. In particular, I’ve been lusting after the Cinelli Ram bars ever since I discovered them:

The unified stem and bar shape is just so pleasingly flowing, and the variety of graphics that look good on it really show it off as a piece of art as much as a functional component:

(photos © Bike Rumor)

It makes sense to me to make this much fuss of the handlebars, its the one part of the bike (other than the front wheel) that you’ll see the most. At around £500 these aren’t going to find their way onto my Peugeot Project anytime soon, but I can’t help planning in my head what custom graphics mine would have…


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Website, soft scoopᅡᅠedition

posted: 11 Apr 2011

Discovered in the road around the corner from my house, labelled ‘website’ on the top and sides.

No, I wasn’t brave enough to look inside. I was a little scared to tell the truth, it was like someone was trying to bait me.


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epic45 - 'Weathering'

posted: 30 Mar 2011

I only discovered epic45 a few months via the other Jon in our office, but they’ve already become one of my favourite bands. I’ve only just caught up with their back catalogue (‘May Your Heart be the Map’ in particular has been my soundtrack to cycling) and already there’s a new album, called ‘Weathering’ out!

I’ve tried to find ways of describing the music, without using wanky terms like ‘dreamy pop soundscapes’, but it’s hard. Something about their sound instantly makes me think of childhood summer adventures in the countryside and suburbs. You see? Hard not to make it sound pretentious. They describe it as:

There is a long tradition of pastoral music capturing a quintessential Englishness, running from Vaughan Williams through the English folk tradition to more recent names like Robert Wyatt and Talk Talk. Further down this line you’ll find Epic45.

Which sounds much better. They’re also one of those bands that has the whole package of music and artwork, and the latest album cover ‘Weathering’ is my favourite so far. It continues the sound of the last 2 albums ‘May your heart’ and ‘In all the Empty Houses’, but builds on it with different guest vocals, Stephen Jones from BabyBird, Rose Berlin (Dean Garcia of Curve’s daughter) and other artists.

You can pick up the CD or download (in many different flavours) from the Epic45 Bandcamp page. It should allow you to preview the tracks, but last time I looked it wasn’t working. However, if you have Spotify you can try out some epic45 with ease: have a listen to All the Empty Houses and May Your Heart be the Map


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Play your iTunes library remotely overᅡᅠVPN

posted: 25 Mar 2011

Brilliant solution to listening to your iTunes library remotely. I already have a Mac set up at home with Home Sharing on, to serve the Apple TV and my iPhone in it’s speaker dock. Now I can use it to play it anywhere there is internets!

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Truly, it is made ofᅡᅠunicorns

posted: 23 Mar 2011

Is a Macbook Air up to the job of being a primary working machine? It has for me…

Since 1995, I’ve always used a Mac laptop as my primary (and only) work machine. When at the office, I plug it into a large screen with keyboard and mouse, and then at home or travelling I’ve got absolutely everything I need with me. Having seen the new generation Macbook Air in the flesh/aluminium, and how small and light it is compared to my unibody MacBook Pro, I wondered if it could be the way forward. The fact that I now cycle to work gave me more impetus to get something that wouldn’t be so heavy on back.

Just as Frank Chimero says in his post about the Air, you have to know what your needs are first. I wanted the power of my 15” MacBook Pro, but in a more portable form, that would allow me to run my day to day apps, and in particular the two resource hungry ones:

  • Adobe Illustrator CS5
  • VMWare Fusion with an XP and Windows 7 disk images

From what I read of people’s experiences on Twitter, I was confident it would work. The lady I spoke to at Apple Leasing felt different though, and quite fervently wanted me to get a Pro, but I ignored it and went for the top spec Air – 13” with 4gb RAM, 256gb SSD drive and 2.13ghz processor. The resolution is the same as my MacBook Pro, so while the screen size is 2” smaller, I fit in the same as I always did before.

It’s absolutely amazing.

Amazing, light and jolly fast.

The Air is leaps and bounds faster than my Pro, despite having a less powerful processor and graphics card. The speed gains must therefore come from the SSD drive. All computers (especially Macs) feel fast when they’re fresh out of the box. Over the months things start to slow down though, so it’ll be interesting to see if that happens with SSD. At the moment, restarts are matter of a few seconds, and the biggest test for me, my Windows 7 virtual disk with aero enabled, runs incredibly smoothly. On the Pro it would drag everything down with it, now I can use it without any issues.

When used on a desk, the wedge shaped body means my hands sit so much more comfortably than with the MacBook Pro – there’s no edge to dig into my wrists. It’s dramatically lighter as well of course.

I don’t miss the CD drive either, and 256gb is just enough to work with and keep a good iTunes Library around. Having Spotify helps too, until a proper cloud-music solution appears. Neither have I particularly missed the ethernet and firewire ports.

I’ve run it in clamshell mode (Macbook closed, connected to an external screen) all day without it feeling like it’s going to boil – something I’ve never been able to do with a Mac laptop. Many prefer to have the screen open, and make use of the extra space, I prefer one screen. In fact with the Air, it’s beneficial to do so, as the RAM is shared with the graphics card, it’s not powering two screens. It works great with my 24” LED Cinema Display (you can only get the 27” these days).

There’s only two negatives that I’ve found: Firstly, in some tasks, such as Flash, the fans can really kick in. It doesn’t get particularly hot (like the MacBook Pros always did), but it is rather noisy. In fact, running it in clamshell mode can exacerbate this, but it still doesn’t overheat.

The other is display issues after being connected to my 24” LED Cinema Display. If I don’t makes sure that the display looks right on the Air before I close the lid to sleep it, I can’t get it to come back on wake. The only solution is to force restart.

However, these are still pretty small negatives compared to benefits of this super-lightweight, fast workhorse. Hands down, it is the best Mac I’ve ever owned.

I really don’t regret going Air one bit, but as always, your mileage and needs, will vary…


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InspectorᅡᅠCumulus

posted: 23 Mar 2011

Words are not enough to express how much I want this figure. Or… to be this figure for that matter! Now available for pre-order from Crazylabel.


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Doctor Who costume t-shirts

posted: 22 Mar 2011

Not the kind of thing i’d wear personally, but I was impressed by how well these were done!

Available from Forbidden Planet for about 17 of your earth pounds.


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HistoricallyᅡᅠHardcore

posted: 21 Mar 2011

A superb student project, creating a series of possible posters for The Smithsonian Museum. The copy-writing is spot on with these!

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