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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

15by7: A nice idea spoilt by reality


Update: Twitter’s desktop site now shows line breaks, so 15by7 tweets now display correctly for the vast majority of users.

Recently I’ve been trying to finish off the shiny new version of this site, and was getting frustrated at my slow progress, so I picked the simplest idea out of my notes.txt file and built something.

The result is 15by7, a one-page web toy for creating tweetable pixel art from Unicode block characters. I’ve also set up @15by7 to retweet the best efforts. There’s no practical use, it’s all about the fun challenge of doodling something within such severe restrictions.

Unfortunately, the Twitter ‘desktop’ site doesn’t render line breaks, so 15by7 tweets end up looking mangled. The mobile site is fine, as are virtually all apps, so it’s an odd and frustrating anomaly. You can force wrapping using long lines or extra-wide characters, but then it doesn’t look right on mobile devices. There’s no universal solution.

Also, in some fonts the block characters are mangled (e.g. the densest block may be much wider; this afflicts Tweetbot on all of my devices) or missing (Android 4 doesn’t seem to have the least-dense block).

So I very nearly ditched the whole thing, and will be filing the project under “Nice ideas spoilt by reality”. Hopefully some people are enjoying it though, and getting anything finished & launched is always good.

iPad with Logitech Ultrathin keyboard and Textastic

Partly as an experiment, and partly out of necessity, I did almost all of the development (everything except image tweaking and browser testing) on an iPad, using Textastic and a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover.

Textastic works well for editing a simple static web site offline, especially once you know this vital tip: tap on the filename at the top to choose from recently-edited files. I was able to preview within the app, and upload to the live hosting for further testing. The only thing I got frustrated with was fiddling around to precisely select text, which is a general iOS/touchscreen issue (and I probably should’ve bumped up the font size and made more use of Textastic’s selection widget).

I’ve been using the Ultrathin quite a lot for four months and haven’t charged it since the day I got it, so battery life certainly isn’t a problem. I’m not generally a fan of encumbering gadgets with cases & add-ons, but it’s well-made and useful if I’m having to do a lot of emailing on the move. Or decide to build a daft little web site.

New Year Link Dump

Groupthink: The brainstorming myth
All brainstorming gets you is a collection of vague, untested ideas, yet many managers then consider the innovative thinking stage to be complete.
Making an Angry Birds Clone in JavaScript
This is a great advert for Greg’s boxbox library.
Departing Space Station Commander Provides Tour of Orbital Laboratory
As wonderful as this is, I spent the whole time thinking “Gah, it’s so cluttered!”.
A couple of sites doing daft things with URLs.
How Do They Make Money?
Not only interesting for those involved in startups, but also a reminder that if you don’t pay for a service they’re probably going to have to do something that annoys you to make a living.
Oculus Rift; Leap Motion
Hopefully these two imminent products will work together so you can stick out your hands and see them in the VR world.
What The Tech World Looks Like To A Teen
Even anecdotal evidence like this is interesting, but don’t be fooled into thinking teenagers are reliable indicators of future technologies.
Create and share simple wireframing diagrams.
Boil the Frog
Attempts to create a playlist that gradually shifts in style from one artist to another.
Telephone Numbers for use in TV and Radio drama programmes
I hadn’t realised that such large blocks (1000 numbers for each area) were allocated.
Password security in Deus Ex
Portraying a bleak future for computer security.
Extinction Tourism: Work at a Newspaper While You Still Can
Established photographer Jonas Bendiksen joined a small newspaper for a new challenge.
Hidden mothers in Victorian portraits
A follow-up post deals with the issue of whether anyone in the photos might’ve been dead.
When Facebook Resurrected the Dead
This brought back memories from around 1990. At university we were shown a demo of an error correction system that used a dictionary to fill in missing letters, and I wondered whether a much more advanced system might in future learn so much from a person’s communications that it would inadvertently complete a whole message if the user got disconnected (the lecturer ridiculed the idea).
Why did infinite scroll fail at Etsy?
Various interesting theories on the behavioural effects.
Scriptless Attacks - Stealing the Pie without touching the Sill
A further warning that it’s not just JavaScript that’s the danger.
Responsive Design for Apps - Part 1
The key thing is that devices capabilities overlap in all sorts of ways that make a nonsense of clear mobile/tablet/desktop pigeonholes.
Favorite Book Cover Designs of 2012
Some great designs, but Peter Mendelsund might see the NW cover differently if he realised it mimics a London street sign.
The Basement
An amazing intersection of old and new media.
Guess my word!
A bit of a work-out for your vocabulary.
Grabs a screenshot of a web page then lets you annotate it.
Spider That Builds Its Own Spider Decoys Discovered
OK spider, I’m impressed.
The two million tweet map
You can drill down and spot people tweeting in your area. Twitter really needs to snap this up and integrate it.
The ZX Spectrum versus modern legislation
The hugely popular 8-bit home computer that kickstarted many a programming career (including mine) would be illegal today.
Doing gravity right
Making algorithms for jumping etc. more accurate and far less vulnerable to frame rate wobbles.
Not bad, but heavily weighted towards videos.

Microsoft Surface RT Review

Microsoft Surface RT

By now you may have seen this slick TV ad for the Surface RT tablet. My wife watched it a couple of weeks ago, paying fairly close attention, then at the end said “Is that a new cover for the iPad?”. Ouch. It’s a good job Steve Ballmer wasn’t round for dinner that night.

I recently bought an RT to add to my growing range of test devices. Let’s get some of the bad points out of the way quickly:

  • There are odd glitches in numerous features.
  • Performance is inconsistent; usually OK but sometimes very sluggish.
  • The ‘VaporMg’ case holds onto fingerprint grease like nothing else ever created.
  • The keyboard cover is bonded around the edges in a way that clearly isn’t durable.
  • The special charging connector is annoyingly fiddly to attach.
  • There aren’t many decent apps available.
  • It feels slightly awkward to hold as a tablet, and can’t be used on your lap with the keyboard cover.
  • Some aspects of Metro/Modern UI aren’t as obvious/discoverable as they could/should be.

Some of those are ‘teething problems’, but the one thing that’s made everyone trying the device pull a face has been the presence of the ‘classic’ desktop. As in the normal version of Windows 8, behind the shiny Modern UI lurks an old-style Windows desktop, in this case primarily to hold a non-touch-friendly version of Office. Producing a Modern UI version of Office will be a huge job, but this hack tells us a lot about Microsoft’s confused priorities and internal management.

Having said all that, there’s much to like. The hardware is good (aside from points mentioned above), battery life seems comparable to the iPad, and Modern UI looks great. Through gritted teeth I must admit that IE10 has seemed very capable (I tried a couple of complex web apps I’m working on and they rendered perfectly).

Overall, the best thing is that it’s genuinely interesting. Android tablets tend to come across as pale imitations of the iPad (in hardware and software), but this is something different. Would I recommend it instead of an iPad? No, the glitches and compromises currently add up to too much frustration. But it’s not the complete dud some reviews have portrayed and I’ve actually enjoyed trying it out.

Catch-up Link Dump

Kracie - happy kitchen #4 - mini hamburger
Grimly fascinating.
An impressive OS X demo crammed into 1KB (bit sluggish on my fairly hefty iMac though).
The Smoothest Con Man That Ever Lived
“…he fashioned several bedsheets into a rope and slipped out the window of the Federal Detention Headquarters in lower Manhattan. Pretending to be a window washer, he casually wiped at windows as he shimmied down the building…”
An impressive range of web browsers available through a Flash-based remote desktop. I’m considering subscribing to cover gaps in my testing coverage.
Chinese Military Shovel WJQ-308
Potential geek gift…? (Yes, you can get them on eBay)
A nice little bit of explosive JavaScript.
Pay up
One other aspect that’s rarely mentioned: over time, suppliers charge late payers more to compensate for the trouble.
Kind Hearts and Coronets: Decadent Dennis Price
I have absolutely no interest in fashion, but found this fascinating (partly because it’s one of my favourite films).
Fluent 2012: Brendan Eich, “JavaScript at 17”
Considering JavaScript’s messy, hurried origins, it’s remarkably elegant.
Video: Cubes all the way down: Fez technical postmortem
Insights into a game with a long, painful development process.
An impressive collection of fully free, high quality recordings, plus sheet music and textbooks.
Privacy monitor hacked from an old LCD Monitor
Fun with polarisation.
The Magical Tech Behind Paper For iPad’s Color-Mixing Perfection
Some careful use of color spaces to create what seems right.
No link left behind
Avoiding link rot is hugely important but usually neglected.
Salted Password Hashing - Doing it Right
With modern GPUs and huge look-up tables, this isn’t as straightforward as it once seemed.
Offline First - A better HTML5 User Experience
Useful code examples.
Meet real people who represent a range of capability
This is a great way of humanising the issues involved with accessible, inclusive design.
Randomly generates impressive-looking maths papers.
Game console browsers
Yes, fellow web devs, it’s yet another set of devices to worry about.
A Sad Announcement from Tiny Speck
Such a shame, but betting on Flash seemed risky even a few years back, and ‘unlaunching’ the game to make major changes was just crazy.
Cleverly uses OpenType features to turn words into symbols.
How Physics Engines Work
Looks like a good introduction for anyone with a reasonable level of maths/coding skills.

iPhone Photography: olloclip & SloPro


This gives you fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses with a single clip-on gadget. Here’s a quick snap taken with the macro, showing the wide-angle lens you have to remove to use it (click for the original, unedited image):

olloclip macro demo

It’s pricey at 50-60 quid, and won’t fit over a case, but clearly well-made and that macro is impressive.


This iOS app lets iPhone 4S users record video at 60fps and then play it back at different speeds, optionally with one of 3 frame interpolation methods (new in v2).

Other devices will only record at 30fps, and even with the 4S you do lose image quality (due to a drop in resolution combined with data rate limits), but it works well and even just halving the speed can be interesting.

Here’s a raw, unedited Quicktime file recorded with the Slow setting (warning: large file) to give you an idea of the output.

SloPro demo

Note that although it’s promoted as a free app, you need to pay to be able to do basic things such as exporting footage.

The Puzzling Thing About Microsoft’s…

…is the URL. They’ve chosen as short a domain as you can get for their new research-orientated social network, but when you visit the site it redirects to

A few possible reasons come to mind:

  • Microsoft corporate policy or standard setup (not every Microsoft site redirects, but most do)
  • Concern that users wouldn’t realise it’s a valid domain name (but then why choose an unusual short name and URL in the first place?)
  • Improving automatic URL recognition in software/services, including their own (e.g. typing into WordPad produces a link, doesn’t)

Whatever the actual cause, it won’t have a noticeable effect on the site’s success but is the kind of irritating tiny detail that hints at a lack of thought or commitment.

Other recent entries

21 May 2012 Mid-May Link Dump
Ns, sea-monkeys, photos, audio, scams, Rambo and more.
16 May 2012 Please Learn To Code… If You Feel Like It
Some thoughts on programming initiatives.
18 Apr 2012 Mid-April Link Dump
Reading, composing, freezing, browsing, fracking and more.
11 Apr 2012 Mobile Browser Testing With Real Devices
A rundown of my current setup.
05 Apr 2012 Stop Spoofing Emails (Or Do It Carefully)
Does your contact form do this?
13 Mar 2012 Bumper Link Dump
A couple of months’ worth.
21 Feb 2012 Online Creativity Is Dead! Long Live Online Creativity!
People still have the urge to make things.
09 Jan 2012 New Year Link Dump
Restarting, reloading, plotting, puzzling, trolling, testing and more.
04 Jan 2012 Self-indulgent Review of 2011
A good year, but mostly hush-hush work.
07 Dec 2011 Almost-End-Of-Year Link Dump
Smells, tweets, dots, spying, toys, dingbats and more.
01 Dec 2011 Why Twitter Really Works
14 Nov 2011 Green Christmas Ad Campaign & Competition
“All I want for Christmas is…”
10 Nov 2011 Marathon Man
Some people can’t resist a challenge.
07 Nov 2011 Autumn Link Dump
Support, terminals, GIFs, glitches, cosplay and more.

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