How to improve Google Calendar for mobile devices

Here’s a real scenario. I went to the dentist the other day for my annual check up. Whilst paying the fee, the receptionist offered to set up my next appointment. “Can you do 3pm on the 26th April next year?” she asked. I pulled out my mobile phone, a Nokia e72, and fired up Opera Mini to open my Google Calendar. I couldn’t check if I was free. Why not?

Google calendar mobile is a really useful mobile web app that enables people to quickly add events using natural language like “Dental appointment at Oxford House on 26th April 2012 at 3pm”.

Here’s what it looks like. As you can see, rather than presenting a typical high-level calendar view, it presents the day view for the current date or the next day that has some appointments.

When it comes to finding out if one is free for an appointment on a specific date in the distant future there is a massive problem. It is really difficult to goto a specific date to see if you have any appointments that might conflict with a proposed date and time.

It seems really strange that Google provides a service without a search facility! Sure, I can browse to events by paging through next and previous links but this is only useful if I want to check if I’m free in the near future. It’s somewhat tedious, time consuming and impractical to paginate thorough endless pages to get to a date one year hence to check availability for a dental appointment.

To fix this I suggest Google add a “Check availability” button that accepts the same natural language ad the “Add event” button. So I could type “26 April 2012″ and it would have a look and say “No appointments on the 26th April” followed by the Add event button. Or it would list all the appointments on that day if there were any. This would make an already useful app even more useful and remove the requirement to jump through endless hoops to sync Google Calendar with my phone’s calendar.

New Adventures in Web Design

The 20th of January is almost two months ago now and yet I’m only just getting around to jotting down my thoughts on Simon Collison’s inaugural New Adventures conference. My excuse is that on the day itself and indeed the month leading up to, and the month following the conference, I had a terrible chest infection that left me quite worn out.

In fact on the day of the conference itself I was struggling to breathe properly and ended up leaving early, missing the final two speakers entirely. This wasn’t a massive issue for me at the time as I’d seen Andy Clarke speak plenty of times before and had seen Brendan Dawes at last year’s Future of Web Design in London. Plenty of other attendees cite Andy and Brendan as the highlights of the day but I came away with my own highlights from a stack of great speakers.

For me, Greg Wood’s talk on Art Direction and Editorial Design on the web was the one that fascinated me the most. Greg had undertaken a small research study to discover how people engaged with his content in the standard blog template format versus an art directed version with graphics and textual treatments.

His presentation was all about his findings and his inspiration. I wish I could link to the slides from his talk but I’ve yet to locate them. If you visit his website you’ll get the general idea though as he art directs all the articles too. I remember Jason Santa-Maria introducing the approach at @media a few years back. If you’ve got the talent and time to put this kind of effort into your articles then it certainly seems to pay off. I’d not seen Greg speak before, I’m not sure he’s done much of it, but he was entertaining and told a good story.

All the other presentations were of a very high standard. I think I took away at least one useful point from each of them. Colly put on great event that felt intimate, friendly and somehow quite unique and set apart from the the more established industry gigs. It has a little of the vibe of the first, single track @media from 2005. The attention to detail was second to none. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to organise an event of such scale and produce a well considered accompanying newspaper to take away.

Travelling up to Nottingham made a nice change from London. I managed to meet a few new people and catch up with some old faces. I just wish I was in better health at the time so I could make the best out of the day. I got the impression that this wasn’t going to be the first and last such event though. Maybe I’ll see you there next year?

My favourite albums of 2010

I have had three albums on heavy rotation since purchasing them last year: Bang goes the Knighthood by The Divine Comedy, Write about love by Belle and Sebastian and The Final Frontier by Iron Maiden.

All three demonstrate the kind of song writing craftsmanship that few other bands can achieve this far into their career. In the case of Iron Maiden, fourteen studio albums in, the band members all now in their 50s, there is no sign of them reaching for their pipe and slippers. I’ve been a fan of Maiden since I was just a boy. People told me I’d grow out of them but it’s yet to happen! I guess I’ve grown with them. Their musical style has evolved over the years into less metal, more prog-rock epics. Still, the likes of The alchemist demonstrate that they can still knock out short, galloping numbers they used to. For me, the highlights of their latest album are Isle of Avalon, Coming home and The talisman.

Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy), who always seemed a little old for his years, is now writing some of his most melodic and diverse material. It’s been a long time since he last had a hit single. Not that this seems to bother him. In fact, being out of the spotlight is probably far more suitable. He now entertains crowds in intimate settings via his one-man show allowing for plenty of room for spontaneous renditions from his back catalogue accompanied by his trademark self-depreciating wit. Hearing the new tracks live was a real treat. It’s hard to pick out any stand out tracks as they are all really strong but if I had to choose I’d probably say that When a man cries and Down in the street below were a cut above the rest.

Belle and Sebastian take much longer gaps between delivering fresh material these days. Yet when it finally appears you really get the impression that they have slaved over every last nuance and detail. I’m quite happy for their latest long player to loop over and over as there’s always some little flourish that i’ll have missed on previous hearings. The melodies are so catchy and the sequencing of the entire album from track to track is perfect. Stand out tracks are I want the world to stop with its northern soul feel, Calculating bimbo which has a really nice warming sound to it; and the title track itself which could have been on last year’s side project, God help the girl.

In 2011 I’m anticipating the latest long player from Elbow and hoping that we’ll see some new material from the Super Furry Animals.

My brother Hugh


By my sister in law, Nicola.

Well this is fun

Ah, blogging, I remember you. Casting my mind back to 2002 I can vaguely remember finding it utterly magical that I could self-publish. Inspired by the likes of Owen Briggs, Eric Costello and web behemoth Jeffery Zeldman I not only fine-tuned my web standards skills but also felt compelled to keep the general public fully up to date with my incredibly interesting life.

A few years later I guess I became a little more self aware. Who really cared about what I’ve had to say? The posts dropped away and by 2009 they were down to a mere trickle. I lost the passion. Or maybe having a couple of kids wiped the energy. I’m not entirely sure. Recently I read something from Jeremy Keith (I can’t remember exactly what it was) that reminded me that, regardless of the fact that his journal is a massively enlightening read, he really only publishes articles for his own enjoyment.

Wonderful thing catharsis. my brain has a couple of years of jumbled up thinking to pour onto this slate. So, along with a redesign to illustrate my thoroughly up to date web skills, I plan to write the odd article or two about what I’ve learnt, where I’ve been and who I’ve been with. If I don’t, be sure to give me a poke.

Moved hosts, redesigning

Something broke on my old design when I moved web host so I decided to give a live redesign a go. Things will be a bit sparse round here until I get my house in order.
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Drupal 7: First look

Drupal 7 First LookI’ve had a fair amount of exposure to Drupal over the last year or so as my employer has embraced it as our web content management system of choice. One thing that has always frustrated me is the steep learning curve and non-intuitive user experience. Drupal 7, released today, strives to fix all that. Facilitated by Mark Boulton and Leisa Reichelt, the Drupal 7 User Experience project put usability and user-centred design at the forefront of priorities for improvement. Hooray!

Despite this move toward a more intuitive and user friendly experience Drupal will always be a complex beast to wrestle with. This is inevitable since it offers so much functionality drives such a wide range of websites. Perfect timing then to be sent the book: Drupal 7 First Look. The book covers all the new features and improvements. There’s plenty of focus on the theme API changes which are of specific interest to me. I can’t wait to see if the developers have dealt with some of my gripes about the lack of control of (some of) the HTML Drupal spews out.

I like to spend a bit of time absorbing the content of new technical books like this so expect the review in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime you can download a sample chapter PDF for yourself.

Cufon on Nokia and Blackberry phones

Apparently Nokia (Symbian / s40 / s60) and Blackberry mobile phone web browsers don’t support the Cufon technique of using any font you like on a web page.

I’ve been building a site where the client wants a specific font to be used for page headings. Cufon fits the bill except for when you try and view the site on a Nokia or Blackberry phone. In these cases the page headings are completely missing. Not desirable. So I created a little script to sniff these fellas out and serve them with plain old CSS instead.

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Nokia E72 – Optical Navi Key success!

For what it's worth, here are a few notes and ramblings about my experience with Nokia's new flagship business phone, the Nokia E72.

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A practical guide to designing for the web (Book review)

Mark Boulton’s Five Simple Steps: A practical guide to designing for the web has to be my favourite web design book of the year. One of the many things I really love about it is the personalised anecdotal style applied throughout. It’s the kind of book that will age gracefully as it doesn’t dwell too much on current trends or techniques, supplementing them with solid age-old design theory from someone who has had formal training in typography, layout and colour theory.

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