Author Archives: peter

2014 – my (partial) year without a smartphone

Life without a smartphone is slow, awkward and confusing. I didn’t think as much as I thought I would.

How it began

Last christmas my mother said she was curious about smartphones. At the same time I was curious about life without one, so I gave mine to her and bought a cheap flip phone that can’t do shit. Even sending text messages on it is horrible.

Now, 9.5 months later, I’m itching to abandon this experiment. But before I do that, I should summarise my experience.

The good

  • I zone out way less during social gatherings, meetings or while coding. Since I am prone to zoning out, this is a huge benefit.
  • I could identify with the “unplug” movement in the movie Transcendence (which wasn’t that bad, honestly!)

The bad

  • When I’m at a restaurant or a bar with one other person and said person goes to the loo, I’m screwed. It feels like everybody in there are staring at me, wondering why I have no phone to look down at. So I panic and play with the cutlery or my beer glass until the loo visit is over (roughly 30 minutes later according to my brain watch). Nobody expects a person to sit around and look bored any more.
  • When I get lost, I have to ask people for directions. While this talking to strangers is a human connection that I would have missed otherwise, it is rarely more than “excuse me, could you tell me…” followed by a prompt response and a “ok, thank you very much” back from me. Sure, I could follow up with talking about the weather and make new connections, but older cab drivers aren’t exactly prime BFF material to me.
  • I also never know how to take public transport from point A to point B, unless I’ve travelled between aforementioned points often. Even then, I fail a lot since the ol’ noggin doesn’t have the timetables stored.
  • People look at me like I’m crazy when I take out the phone equivalent of Mesopotamia to add them my contact book. I don’t know if I’m not, who does really? But still. Shut up, egg!
  • I don’t think deeply about things as much as I thought I would. I assumed that the time on the tram that I couldn’t use for Twitter would be filled with grand intellectual dissections that would change the world, but they aren’t. Most of the time I’m bored and think about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves, which actually might be a bit beneficial.
  • I get way more Facebook messages than text messages. People tend to assume that you always see their Facebook messages, and key information like “Hey buddy, I’ll be 248 minutes late” will remain unseen by me until I arrive at home, 250 minutes later.
  • I take and share way less photos, which means that my poor mother in Sweden knows less about what life down under is like.

Summary

All in all, a worthwhile experiment. But it didn’t change that much to the better and made my life a lot less convenient. I’m surprised I lasted this long, I thought I’d break down after 1-2 months.

I won’t be as happy with my new smartphone as I think I will be. Then again, the previous sentence indicates that I don’t think I will be happy with it, so I’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. But now the last sentence makes me realise that that mightn’t be quite so simple.

Why I don’t feel like presenting at conferences any more

I’ve delivered a handful of talks over the course of my career and my experience tells me that there are better ways of getting the message out there. Ways that require much less time and can reach bigger audiences.

Here’s how I believe that the different mediums compare to each other with regards to effectiveness, in ascending order:

  1. Books
  2. Face-to-face discussions
  3. Conference talks
  4. Podcasts
  5. Conference talks that are recorded and available online
  6. Conference workshops
  7. Lightning talks at local meet-ups
  8. Blog posts (hi!)

A poor return on investment

I like my presentations to be of a very high quality, so I tend to work hard to make them be visually and structurally good and delivered in an interesting. This process is enormously time-consuming: I reckon I spend 20-30 hours preparing a 60 minute talk.

I can’t point to how I’ve benefitted from this other than that I’ve gotten better at giving presentations and gotten a few pats on the back. I haven’t made a dollar from speaking (barring the free conference ticket). I’ve not made any lasting and deep contacts with interesting people as a direct result from speaking. I’ve never gotten a job offer based on a presentation I’ve made.

I write blog posts every now and then and some of them are read by thousands of people. One hour spent on a piece of text that can reach a potentially large audience makes a lot more sense than working for days on a talk that maybe a few hundred people will see.

I’ll stick to writing, thank you very much

I’d have to have a very good reason to ever sign up for speaking at a conference again. I’ll write my blog posts and use the time that I don’t spend on rehearsing a talk to help the poor or whatever.

Ps. Please note that I’ve only presented at a very small number of conferences, and most of the times I’ve delivered lightning talks. As far as speakers go, I have very little experience and therefore your mileage may vary. Ds.

jQuery Mobile experience report

I am currently working on a mobile-optimised web app and have been doing so for the last month and a half. In order to get widgets like sliding panels, searchable drop-downs etc for free, we started looking for a JavaScript framework that would make our development go faster.

I evaluated, rather hastily might I add, jQM (jQuery Mobile), YUI and Sencha Touch and found that jQM seemed to hit the sweet spot of giving us a lot of functionality for free but without being very invasive. Other people reported that for e.g. Sencha you need to accept a different way of writing your markup, whereas working with jQM should feel more like your are just enriching your HTML.

Enriching your DOM

What I didn’t understand until later was just how must extra stuff jQM added, it dynamically inserts a lot of classes and divs in your HTML (n.b. I intuitively FEEL like this is what happens after using it for a few weeks, but when I inspected my HTML to find good examples of this I didn’t find anything horrendous).

There are advantages to this approach; sites work without JavaScript and you write standard HTML. But the major disadvantage is that it takes a lot of mental effort to reconcile what HTML you had written and what HTML you see in the browser inspector when trying to understand why the heck something looks the way it does. And you need to fix it, which brings be on to my next point.

So much cascading

We have constantly felt the need to write ugly CSS hacks, like very chatty/aggressive selectors to get around the jQM selectors on the elements that it adds to the DOM. I didn’t want us to start modifying the jQM stylesheets themselves, since that would make upgrading to a newer version much harder. But after spending too much time on writing said hacks, we gave up and are now making changes directly in jquery.mobile.css.

To conclude

I would absolutely use jQM on a project where the mobile website’s design deviate very little from the examples you can see on demos.jquerymobile.com. When speaking to our designer, he mentioned that other teams he had worked with echoed this statement.

If I was to work on a project with a more customised look and feel, I’d probably settle on using small plugins and/or write my own instead. I believe that this would have made us move faster on this particular project, which used a bunch of fancy solutions for how to fill out forms etc.