Thursday, 19 February 2009

Canonical uri help with a firefox extension

A week or so ago it was announced that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft had come together to agree on the new canonical tag that should go some way to prevent accidental duplicate content (intentional duplicate content is something else entirely, micro-site fans!). I was just getting over finding out about all those rival pro-wrestlers who hung out together at weekends, now this.

Either way, there has been plenty written about the advantages of using this tag in your own site. At Wahanda, we are starting to implement them on our pages. To make this process a bit easier, our 'esteemed chief architect' (to give him his full title) came up with a neat little firefox extension to display the page canonical uri tag value in the toolbar, saving the hassle of having to view the source of the pages we need to check.

Being the generous sort (and we suspect trying to make up for a shady past somewhere in west london), he also is giving it away for free. You can download the canonical uri firefox extension from the wahanda site.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

I'll be upfront about this. Sometimes, when I am finished reading through digg, and all the techy blogs I subscribe too (and I am too brain dead to do anything else but not tired enough to go to bed) I like to have a look where Wahanda is being mentioned on the interweb. The name gets dropped around various forums.

Running in google tells me all the places the name is used outside our site. It sometimes throws up interesting results.

One result that caught my eye was here - (i'm not even going to do a nofollow link to these guys). It showed up because of this text:
Global JavaScript functions library

Yup - the header on our javascript. Not exactly the latest code, but ours nonetheless. Truncating the uri showed that they had indeed taken all of our javascript. And truncating again redirected to A site that looks eerily familiar - even more familiar when I put it through the google (again!) translator to reveal exactly the same words used for some labels. Many of the icons are the direct rips of ours, as is the general page layout and even their logo bears more than a passing resemblance.

.... translated, becomes....

It's all a bit cheeky really.

What to do?
I'm not big on the whole legal action thingumy - lawyers get paid plenty without me giving them a helping hand. And there is no doubt I look and learn from other peoples code and, yes, websites. But then again, this site is a direct competitor, albeit not in a region we are focusing on just now and this is a direct rip.

There are a few hints out there by people who have experienced the same thing. they discuss what to do if your site is ripped off by someone else and how to respond to plagiarism.

Looks like they might be getting a friendly email in the next couple of days...

Friday, 13 February 2009

Last 1234567890 day I gave you my heart...

In a shocking turn of events it looks like my attempts to make my wife even slightly enthusiastic about 1234567890 day have failed - she has actually gone to bed before our time_t party can start...

Looks like I'll be digging out my party music (I recommend 'Computer World' be Kraftwerk). on my own... sniff.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Making easy things easy, hard things possible

It is always the balance between guiding users to where you want them to go and providing them with enough navigation to let them go where they want to go. I won't pretend to be an expert on this subject by any means. Beyond working my way through a few books, like Don't Make Me Think and the distant memory of university lectures on the subject I am as much a bluffer as the next code monkey.

I was reminded of the importance of giving the user a friendly, usable interface to navigate though a few weeks back when I had to phone the TV licencing people after they picked up on a delivery of a USB receiver at my work. Neither number in their threatening-as-ever letter or any option in the 3 or 4 level deep telephone menu actually came close to the "I don't need a licence now stop harassing me" area I required. It was a complete dead end - even the guy I eventually got through to didn't know how to navigate their maze. It may not be where the evil TV licencing (I'm hoping to start my own mini google bomb :-) ) people wanted me to go, but preventing me from getting to the option I wanted did not help either of us.

When I worked for lastminute, we could tell a piece of functionality wasn't quite cutting it for the users because they would tell us; they provided nice website feedback along the lines of "I want to kill the person who wrote this". Wahanda is a bit smaller, so we spend more time checking how the site is used rather than waiting for people to tell us how bad it is.

We recently rewrote our therapist profile registration and editing form (I can't show you an example until you register :-) ), along with the profile view after it became clear from the incomplete profile data we were receiving that it wasn't obvious to people how to provide data in the way we hoped they would. It still could improve of course, but immediately the quality of the new profiles we saw being created showed that we were at least blocking a few less people.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

How involved should a developer be in their work subject

It's a question I ask myself more and more, or rather one that is being asked of me.

I work in a start up called Wahanda that works with spas, beauty salons, gyms and fitness centres, etc, etc. I don't feel completely unqualified - my wife is a massage therapist (you can see her therapist profile on the site), but at the same time, I just don't go to these havens of relaxation. I cycle to work to stay fit, I get my biannual hair cut sitting in my own kitchen (Ok, maybe three times a year...) and get regularly mocked by my wife for being too scared to join her at her pilates class.

On the other hand, my bosses (Lopo and Salim), as well as people who do copy and marketing live the life and regularly do their beauty treatments, massages, yoga, power plates, etc.

Does it matter if developers are not as intimately familiar with the 'product' as the people who write the articles or market them?
In a former life I thought the answer was a definite no. The subject of our job is the language and frameworks we use to construct the site, not the subject itself. Which is why I used to get annoyed at adverts for developers in the banking sector which said that developer experience in the banking sector is mandatory - presumably because their for loops are completely different from everybody else's code

Now I am not so sure.

Part of any programmers job is to be a code monkey - to create the code which meets the specifications required by the business (via an architect or business analyst or whoever). It's no bad thing. However, not getting involved in the subject of the application or web site you code for means that being a really good code monkey is where you have to stop. To have creative input beyond generating fully-spec'd code you have to be familiar with what drove the business to create those goals in the first place. As much as it can be frustrating, understanding some of the characteristics of the people who will use what you develop will help you to get it more right the first time.

Am I going to get a job in a bank? Nope. Am I going to hide at the back of a pilates class any time soon? Very unlikely.

I do, however, have a Wahanda gift voucher that is burning a hole in my pocket and I am thinking a massage might make a change from being hunched over my computer.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Vanishing code

It was quite sad to see my old office at SUN in linlithgow will shut down its manufacturing operations. I went through two or three rounds of redundancies while I was there 2001-2004 working in the storage system manufacturing group.

I am sad for the guys at SUN - there is not a lot of work in the area; Motorola closed down completely a few years back. But then the company I worked for before SUN was bought over while I was there and has changed beyond recognition, and the one after doesn't seem to be doing much on their website anymore either and is part of a whole group of software that is being phased out. It seems to be the way of the branch of engineering I am in. I think I like the idea the all the code I have ever written has, or will be shortly, thrown away.

It's probably quite sad in a way that there is not a lot to show for my hours of work. But then the alternative - tweaking the same piece of COBOL written 30 years ago sounds miserable to me and I wouldn't want to wish it on anybody.

It doesn't stop me trying my best to write maintainable code of course, but I always thought the benefit of doing so would be that the next person would feel comfortable throwing bits of it away, rather than writing a "Here be dragons!" comment at the top and going no further.

Sharing your transaction information for your protection

A month or so back I caved in to the pressure from my beloved and bought a USB TV receiver from She had a deprived childhood it seems, and has never seen certain things, like 'Escape to victory' that others have spent time watching on several, several occasions.

(Un)fortunately, the reception where we live is very bad without doing a Rod Hull (poor man) and clambering on to the roof of our 4 storey building. The device was placed in a drawer and forgotten about... until a letter arrived at my work address (the delivery address) - a licence demand from the evil TV Licencing people asking why they had no record of the office address on their system.

I do my best to rise above the threatening format of the TVL letters but was surprised that amazon shared my transaction information with a third party. Looking through their privacy documents, I found this bit of blurb

We release account and other personal information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law; enforce or apply our Conditions of Use and other agreements; or protect the rights, property or safety of, our users or others. This includes exchanging information with other companies and organisations for fraud protection and credit risk reduction.

I suppose notifying the TVL of my purchase might go under 'protecting the rights of others'. However, it doesn't exactly instill in me that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing my information is safe in amazon's hands.

Still, it might be worth it, if only to have that once in a lifetime chance to observe the mystical TV detector van in the wild