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Hello, Shanghai! Happy holidays, everyone!

As you might’ve guessed from the title of this post, I am now in Shanghai and I have been for almost a month now. Apart from socialising with relatives, most of my time is spent on my job, with the free time I have soaked up by learning how to speak Mandarin. This has effectively stalled most if not all of my public projects – however once in a while it is good to just intensively learn and experience rather than the create-create-create I am normally used to. It’s also been good to have time to fix up and investigate a lot of nagging issues I’ve procrastinated in the past, such as creating a more robust backup solution, setting up better permissions on my webserver for alpha projects and hosted projects, and figuring out exactly how close my computer is to death.

Shanghai is cold. But Shanghai also has a lot of delicious food. The latter excuses the former. When I’m not resisting the cold and tanking up my stomach, I have experienced the usual touristy sights such as The Bund, public parks, ancient Chinese garden- oh, what’s that? No mention of the Great Wall or Tian’anmen Square? Yes, because that’s in Beijing, not Shanghai – which I will drop by and enjoy in the near future.

There was also a brief meet-up with Patrick Lauer (bonsaikitten) which was interesting given my previous geographic inconveniences meaning I could rarely meet up with anybody. If anybody else is in the area or knows of any FOSS events, give me a shout.

Every day is a linguistic challenge as I plough through new words to learn, but probably the best thing about being in Shanghai is that being back in an asian country means I play Badminton twice a week again.

Will be posting more updates to WIPUP in the near future.

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Tech Tip #10: merge PDFs into 2 per page, 3 per page, etc (n per page)

This post is mostly just a reminder to myself, but it may be useful to others.

I was recently asked to convert a .ppt, or Powerpoint slideshow document, into a three slides per page, horizontally centered, one on top of another, with frames around each slide. Powerpoint itself offers several printing options, including a 2n per page (ie. 2, 4, 8, etc) as well as handouts, which can do 3 per page but are incredibly small and have writing lines besides the slides.

Luckily, Powerpoint can save the .ppt into a .pdf, and there are plenty of PDF manipulation tools on Linux, and are generally much more readily available than on Windows. Scribus is an option, but after some searching I discovered “pdfnup“, part of the “pdfjam” package. This is the command I ended up using:

pdfnup --nup 1x3 --no-landscape --frame true --batch foo.pdf bar.pdf etc.pdf

For a full explanation of the commands, you can try looking at its manpage, or pdfnup --help, which is much more useful.

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Tech Tip #9: use Klipper to automatically post to a Pastebin.

I haven’t done a tech tip in a while, but here’s a nice, simple one which I am finding very useful.

Pastebins are a really useful way to share snippets of text. However it’s sometimes a bit cumbersome to have to open a browser window, type in the URL, paste it in, click submit, then copy the URL to share with your friend. That’s why things like wgetpaste exist – small command-line utilities to automate this process and return the URL. wgetpaste isn’t the only one, of course, but they’re all rather similar.

Klipper is KDE’s Clipboard manager – whenever you copy something, via right click -> copy or ctrl-c, it gets added to your clipboard. Klipper allows you to navigate through it – so that you can paste something you copied a while back, or set up custom things to paste, or even – which is what I’ll talk about today – set it to automatically perform an action on the paste. The most common use is to automatically open a link in a browser if you copy a link from somewhere.

What we’ll tackle is to get Klipper to autopaste our clipboard item into a pastebin, and return the URL to us. So just set it up as shown below:

And you’re done! Copy something, press ctrl-alt-r to invoke the actions menu, click “Pastebin”, and now the URL of the pasted item will be in your clipboard for you to ctrl-v to your friend. Neat, eh?

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GetKDE.org progress – Discover KDE!

For the impatient, here is a link to the new page, and for those who missed the last post, here is a link to the GetKDE.org homepage. Finally, here is a screenshot of the newly added Explore page:

The homepage of GetKDE is essentially a hub with a teaser. The site structure itself is split into three sections, Software, Community, and Development.

Those completely new to everything KDE will start off in the Software section, via clicking the “Explore how KDE benefits me” option.

It is then important to market only what is relevant to the user – for KDE, this depends a lot on what device you have. KDE’s objective isn’t to convert users to Linux, however happy that makes our inner penguin, but instead to help people enjoy and make the most of their computing experience with KDE Software.

As a result, this is the page they will see. It’s objective is to make it clear what components make up a computer, which are Apps, Workspaces, and Framework. Different components will interest different people, and the availability of components are also limited depending on what the user is using. For example, Windows and Mac users won’t get a Workspace, but will get Apps and Framework. Mobile users get different Workspaces to non-mobile users. And so on.

The reason this initial segregation is so important is for several reasons:

  1. They are introduced to the branding jargon that KDE users, eg Apps, Workspaces, Framework and understand how it fits together
  2. This allows highly specific and targeted marketing in the next stage – no use comparing Kate to GEdit for a Windows user.
  3. Users understand the scope of KDE development that it isn’t just limited to desktops/laptops and are flexible to bend around what people use.

In other related news, the GetKDE.org homepage itself got a bit of a cleanup, which you can check out live via the link here, or in the below screenshot.

That’s it for this post! More to come!

For those particularly interested in this project, progress is tracked via its WIPUP project space.

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WIPUP 11.11.11 released!

WIPUP.org is an open-source web application built for one reason: to show the world what you’re working on.

If you’re impatient, click here to check out the fresh WIPUP.org.

I’m very happy to announce version 11.11.11 being released today. It’s the first non-alpha/beta release, which means that I’m confident that it does what it’s meant to do, and so it’s ripe for the public to use it.

This release’s splash image is created courtesy of Erik Kylen from Blackmaze.

For those who are interested, you can read the release notes here which describe all the new stuff in this release.

I’m very curious to see where WIPUP goes to from here. Being the first non-testing release, it satisfies all of my personal needs for the system. There really isn’t anything else it needs to do. The only ones I can think of is the ability to mark projects as complete, or to download archives of projects, but both of those aren’t necessities.

It’s really been a joy developing WIPUP. I hope other people enjoy using it just as much as I do.

Enjoy the update, and I’m off for the day :)

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What’s up with KDE.org & Hello GetKDE.org

It’s been a while since I last posted about KDE.org, aka the KDE-www war series. It talked about the current KDE.org design, and how to improve it. The series started with target audiences and conversion goals, picked apart and restructured the sitemap, revealed an initial design proposal with clear-cut priorities, and finally analysed the effectiveness of design.

Since then, the KDE-www team has gotten serious about rebuilding KDE.org from the ground up and has started up project neverland. However, I shall now be continuing the work on KDE.org under a new name, GetKDE.org.

You can visit http://GetKDE.org/ right now – feedback is much appreciated.

One of the most important aspects of the redesign is community involvement. GetKDE.org is built publicly online irrespective of the KDE release schedule. This is so that the community is free to visit it any time and provide feedback and leave comments.

There are a few differences between how GetKDE.org is tackling the KDE.org redo and how neverland is tackling it:

  • The Oxygen team is unpredictable. Neverland’s answer to this is to design without employing the blue-coloured KDE, Oxygen, Air, or Plasma-themed elements as part of the basic design- that way, it will still be relevant no matter what KDE looks like. GetKDE.org instead regards Oxygen’s unpredictability as a fault of Oxygen, and does use the three biggest things which make KDE’s brand recognisable as it currently stands: Blue KDE, Oxygen, and Plasma w/ Air.
  • GetKDE.org is documenting its design process outside IRC. GetKDE.org wants to be 100% transparent with the development process, making sure that the community knows what’s being done, why, and can voice their opinions. This means taking things outside the IRC channel, as well as into real life. This is because any change to a significant visual thing representing KDE may mean changing KDE’s brand. This is not something to be taken lightly. This also means that GetKDE.org doesn’t follow the KDE release schedule.
  • GetKDE.org has a much smaller scope. Only pages within KDE.org will be considered rather that neverland’s objective of a one-size-fits-all solution unifying all sites, including wikis, forums, translated versions, etc. This means that a lot of content will be filtered out, but quality should outweigh the quantity.
  • GetKDE.org is following the previously outlined target audiences and goals. Neverland is following a more rapidly developed, iterative design approach, whereas marketing objectives have been laid out from the start in GetKDE.org, and it will follow that.
  • Neverland is the currently heir to KDE.org. Although GetKDE.org will perform exactly the same functions as KDE.org, most of the team are currently working on neverland. As such, GetKDE.org is being branded as an experimental alternative to KDE.org – and will stay that way until either community or statistics prove otherwise. GetKDE.org will not become KDE.org.

Well, I hope you enjoyed it! More will come soon. Just another week until semester is over and then I’m ready for a sprint :) Updates are being dutifully tracked on its WIPUP project.

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Getting things done.

I was quite amused when my parents asked me how do you get all this stuff done? I was even more amused (and actually initially disregarded it as a joke) when they asked me to write a short document explaining my methods. Apparently there’s secret to how I juggle my activities, and people want to hear it.

This got me thinking a little bit about what motivates me to pursue my goals. Other methods, such as those suggested by the Ultimate Productivity Blog (which teaches you nothing but how to be a workaholic), or perhaps David Allen‘s famous GTD (Getting Things Done) which promotes a complex hierarchy of life planning techniques, or even the whimsical  Good Fucking Design Advice-esque techniques of getting over creative blocks (of which no other systematic approach can cure) – well, none seem to be the answer.

I find they aren’t the answer because each requires the individual to mould themselves around a system. Some may find it easy and natural to mould around that system, but there will come a point when that system is inappropriate. So I thought about what I did instead, and put together a list of my answers. Perhaps they help.

Be happy.

I put this first simply because it’s obvious and true. Nobody wants to be unhappy, and as a result we always do things better when we’re happy. If you are happy throughout the day, you will accomplish more with that day.

Be proud of what you do.

It doesn’t make sense to do things you aren’t proud of doing. I find that by only doing the things which I’m proud of, that answers the questions of “why am I doing this” and “is it worth it” and all of those other questions we ask when we don’t feel motivated enough to do something. This also makes you happy working on what you need to do.

Don’t look at the time.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive. Surely people who have busy lives run by the clock? I disagree with this. I have a binary watch, which makes checking the time fashionably inconvenient, and half the time (well, we can never know for sure!) I forget where I last put my watch anyway.

The logic is simple. There is no such thing as not enough time to fit everything into 24 hours. Usually the problem is that we’re not motivated enough on a task to get it done proficiently. As a result, we find ways to distract ourselves, delay, and worry about unnecessary details rather than simply sitting down and actually enjoying the task for what it is, then proudly finishing it. When you’re happy and proud of what you do, you’re too busy having fun doing things until you don’t have to worry about the time any more – things get done!

Excuses are silly.

I find that we all love to fill in the blanks to this sentence “I need _____ before I can _____“. From the downright stereotypical of “I need my coffee before I start my day” to “I need to wait for person X’s input before I do Y” or even “I need to finish task X before I can be happy and stop worrying“. This isn’t bad per se – it’s something natural that we all do and helps keep us sane because it describes how our world works in the simple terms of X causes Y. I myself say “I need fuel before I can work happily” (fuel = food).

However, it’s good to realise that sometimes our understanding of X causes Y does not necessarily imply that Y requires X. So whenever we notice something of this X->Y structure, it’s good to question whether X is really a prerequisite or simply just an excuse we’ve made up. Normally it is the latter. If it isn’t, then stop worrying about it- which brings me to my next point.

Stop planning in your head.

I tend to stress when I plan in my head. I think it’s because I’m constantly repeating a whole list of things that have to be done. This can be overwhelming. Find a system that works for you to take this strain off your head. For instance, get a piece of paper and jot down a to-do list for the day, choose a task, then forget about about the rest of the items.

I personally use a system called RememberTheMilk (discovered back in 2009). I like it because it’s easy to use, has a sane priority ranking (high/medium/low), and is very accessible – it works on all phones, as a widget on my computer, and even via command line.

What I do is whenever I have a brief flash something I want to do pop into my head, I immediately dump it on my RTM list so I can forget about it. Anything with a deadline gets rewarded top priority, anything without a deadline medium priority, and anything long-term or as a passing fancy as low priority. I right now usually have around 60 tasks at any one time. Each task should be able to be completed within a day. Anything longer and it has to be broken down, unless it’s a long-term goal. Every morning I pick a few tasks I want to do for the day, put them in a separate list, then forget about the rest.

Right now I’ve got “build an oil lantern” in my low priority list. I’ve no idea how it got there – I guess one day I was inspired to make a lantern. Maybe one day I shall :)

If you use a system, use it. If not, scrap it.

People make systems and techniques to solve productivity problems. Often the problem isn’t with the system, buut instead that the person isn’t disciplined enough to use the system effectively. For example, some people can’t make using to-do lists a habit – perhaps because it isn’t their nature.

I find it’s important not to get too attached and wrapped up in the system – it makes you dependent and inflexible. This is why I moved towards the be happy, be proud, and enjoy what you do technique, because it makes sense and it’s impossible to go wrong with it no matter what happens to disrupt your schedule throughout your day.

Tackling those creative blocks

I don’t think I have any thing special that I do. The hardest challenge when getting things done seems to be getting over creativity blocks. They can easily frustrate you and there isn’t a set way to solve it. I have no solution either, but in general when I’m happy I get over it, and when I realise I’m not progressing anywhere, I hop over to do something else. Sometimes some fresh air and chocolate is good for my creative issues.

In a nutshell

Reading over this post, I realise I could delete everything in it apart from the first point of being happy. It’s probably not something people place a lot of emphasis on when looking a techniques of getting things done, but it should be.

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Whatever happened to failnation?

A cute story which happened a short while back truly begins a couple years ago when I bought the domain failnation.com. The objective was to use it to host mini-tutorials on correct grammar and netiquette in IRC chatrooms. Whenever somebody was unfamiliar with the social protocol (no pun intended- well no, I kid- pun definitely intended), I could then just immediately link them to failnation.com, where they’d receive a brief introduction on how to act properly.

For those interested, two of the documents (slightly edited, but essentially mirrors from other online sources) which Failnation hosted are here – for IRC etiquette, and here – for Universal Greeting Time usage.

Some time after being used for that rather ridiculous joke of a reason, I got myself a VPS and set about learning the ins and outs of DNS servers. Having my other domains busy hosting serious business, Failnation was the guinea pig for all my bind experiments. After about a month of instability – it turned into my private Git repository, on the public side hosting another instance of WIPUP. After this matured, the instance was migrated to the Australian server hosting WIPUP and turned into the live.WIPUP that still runs today. Failnation was then not used for anything.

Which brings us to now – or more accurately, a while back. I was contacted by the Cheezburger Network Inc. – the guys who practically brought the instance of lolcats and cats with silly captions to their current online fame on the internet. They own ICanHasCheezburger.com, FailBlog, and a ton of other whimsically-captioned niche humour groups. For example, Yar.is, which attempt to pull humour out of Yaris cars. Who would appreciate it? Who knows. I didn’t think anybody would appreciate a half-toast-half-cat shooting out rainbow streams, but apparently the insane population of the internet do.

The domain failnation.com is now in their paws, where it’ll probably live a better life than it has under me. So long, then, and I’ll be keeping watch.

As it turns out, Cheezburger Network released a book a while ago also by the same moniker of Failnation.  Whether this has anything to do with it I’m still unsure, but I can assure you the name was purely coincidental.

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WIPUP.org – aiming small

Today I wanted to talk a bit about the birth and objectives of WIPUP – a subject I haven’t really revealed before. WIPUP, for those who aren’t already familiar with it – is an open-source web application I created which allows people to document, share, track, and critique their works-in-progresses, or in short, WIPs.

The project began quite a while back. I had made relatively significant progress on the ThoughtScore project – my hobby animated film, and I wasn’t content with sharing it on the BlenderArtists forum – it seemed very limited and non-specialised for project documentation. I had also had the VisionBin project – a portfolio-generator webapp – running for a few months. My “finished” renders didn’t fit well there either. VisionBin had been running for some time and it wasn’t doing too well – the concept wasn’t differentiated enough and it didn’t perform its task particularly well either (especially in hindsight). I also hadn’t touched programming for a while and was getting a tad rusty.

That’s right – the time was ripe for a new project.

I evaluated the situation and decided that I needed to make a system dedicated to sharing the in-between. Not the mini-projects and small-time creations which forums, blogs, twitters, deviantarts, etc, were fine for, but also not for massive projects which were kept under wraps until they were unveiled – for everybody to enjoy the finished project but disregard the beautiful, hidden, shunned process behind it. I needed to expose this beautiful process. This was the key behind keeping ThoughtScore alive. Turning the arduous learning process behind an impossibly ambitious project into something to be celebrated. This – yes –  this was WIPUP.

As you can see, WIPUP was a very selfish invention. It was a system for myself. I wasn’t interested in communities or distribution. In fact, the first release on WIPUP wasn’t built on the open-source Kohana framework, but instead on a company-tied solution called CodeIgniter, and that WIPUP release was closed-source.

It was only later when I was frustrated with some of the slowly developed aspects of the CI framework did I have a discussion with the folks in the Kohana channel, and WIPUP was half-built did I begin the Eadrax project. The Eadrax project was the open-source rewrite of the then alpha-quality WIPUP under Kohana. That was the time I decided to share this system – and guest WIPs and user accounts were added to the system

During the development of Eadrax, I was exposed to similar projects such as Dribbble, the *bins (temporary WIP hosting), and various others I can’t recall right now. They still didn’t suit me – they lacked flexibility and organisation. For flexibility – most were very oriented towards a very specific format – an image snapshot, a sound upload, etc. None offered the flexibility to have an update to be a simple as a Tweet to the complexity of embedded video and multiple image attachments. I worked on a huge variety of projects and just supporting one but excluding others wasn’t good enough for me. Similarly, for organisation, none seemed to offer any form of proper project categorisation. I needed a way to separate out my work into projects – view my progress as a whole and split within projects. That was how projects in WIPUP were introduced (they were also taken from VisionBin)

Finally – I needed my data to be free. I didn’t want my careful documentation of my personal projects to be lost to a third-party, forever bound within the constraints of their system. I needed to be able to retrieve it however I wanted and format it as I liked. None of those systems were open-source or offered any form of security. WIPUP then turned open-source, and implemented the Open Collaboration Services API, and is now looking towards project export capabilities.

Much more interesting than these dissatisfactions was the realisation that my needs were – perhaps sadly – a rarity. Count the number of people you know who has a hobby where they create stuff which can be shared. Now within that group of people, count the number whose hobbies have sufficiently long-term work-in-progress periods such that it makes sense to document the process. Already we have a very small number of people, if any. Then, out of the remaining few, pick out those who have multiple concurrent projects of varying nature and characteristics. Almost nobody? Perhaps one or two? Finally, single out those who actually want to or can share this process. That’s the killer. Most can’t. Most don’t want to. Perhaps they’re restricted by a group project or by a company. Perhaps it’s such an amazing project they believe it should be kept completely secret. Perhaps they don’t see the point. Perhaps they don’t have time, or are too focused on the finished product.

I then followed through this realisation by testing out if there really were people in everyday life that thought like me. I took the idea brought about by Atlassian – the idea that once in a while, you have a day where a group of people can do whatever they want – hobbies, work, personal, family, whatever – with the single restriction that at the end of the day they shared what they did alongside an enjoyable, informal dinner. They discovered that this 20-80 ruled production and sharing period was mindblowingly useful. So useful until Google took up the same system and did similar with their employees.

So I took the attitude that whatever I did, I should be proud of it. There isn’t any use in doing something you aren’t proud of. I’m not proud of killing time, and so I made it known to people. I worked on what I loved. And then I shared what I loved. Sadly the feedback was less than favourable. People didn’t share the same interest I did in just hearing about things people love – irregardless of field or industry. Extrapolating that – I didn’t find people who wanted to be proud of what they did. They were content with just living. Perhaps I was searching in the wrong place, perhaps I was searching at the wrong time, perhaps I was searching for the wrong signals.

Slowly digesting this information – I realised more and more that WIPUP is built for almost nobody. It was designed for such a niche that the euphemism of the word “niche” (ie. most people simply don’t care) doesn’t apply any more. This brings up a very important thing to consider – what do I want to achieve for WIPUP outside my personal wants and needs?

In WIPUP’s current state, most of the previous users have moved on. Despite being online for a couple years, WIPUP is only home to 150 user accounts, only a handful of which are active (ie. can be counted on your hand), and of those which are active, the majority are people I have known for some time online. There are no advertisments, no total filesize restrictions, completely for free, and recently it seems as though some idiot has written a bot to register an account and insert updates with spam links in them. Development has stalled due to almost all of the features I wanted to include already implemented.

So what exactly, then, is WIPUP’s current objective?

I’m hunting, folks. I’m hunting. More to come.

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TheBeaverExchange – dirt cheap textbook exchange for LSE students

During the past few months, I have been doing my fair share of web development work. Although I cannot share most of my projects, I did recently build a system for a friend at the London School of Economics to help students exchange textbooks and other scholastic items for dirt cheap (see: free). It’s wittingly called TheBeaverExchange – a due tribute to Canada’s noble national animal as well as – perhaps – the LSE’s animal mascot.

The Beaver Exchange

This post is the obligatory advertisement of “check it out folks!”. Oh, and if you want one for your university/school too, I’m sure they’re thinking about reselling the system (with branding, no doubt). So check out TheBeaverExchange – cheap LSE textbook listings.

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Still alive

Today I was reminded about the lack of activity on my blog and on WIPUP, so tonight amidst my other projects I have sat down and I’m here writing.

The last post was back near the end of my first semester, first year in architecture at the University of Sydney. Since then I’ve spent a lovely winter break with relatives, attended the newly formed Sydney’s Blender User Group’s two meetings, had a short trip to Adelaide to experience FLUX: Student Architecture Congress (which was great, thankyouverymuch), performed as musical director (and terrible actor) for the Architecture Revue, released as well as started several large-scale projects from my webdevelopment work (of which I am not linking due to NDAs), worked on some music compositions, attended some of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, am now also available on G+, started up a band, teaching some music, read at least 10 books, learning some violin, migrated away from a KDE infrastructure (I still do forum moderation, though), ploughed through most of my second semester (almost done, eh?), turned 19, and I’m now back alive in the online world.

That was a pretty good in-a-nutshell of the past 4 months, 16 weeks, or third of a year. I’m personally not too happy with the create:consume ratio I’ve had, but I guess it was a necessary dip in the cycle to get back into a worthy production mode. To make a first step I’ve uploaded a short (terrible) experimental soundscape I did with some friends a couple weeks back.

More to come.

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Architecture Portfolio Walkthrough, Year 1, Semester 1

A while back, I announced that holidays had started (well, now officially they have, just handed in my last assignment today) and that I was going back to all my projects and blogging more. The latter, obviously, was a complete failure, but hopefully this picture-filled post (all 20 of then, oh yes) will make up for the delay in the blog schedule (it was also a good opportunity to practice using the camera).

This is a walkthrough of my year 1, semester 1 architectural portfolio. There’s a lot of beginner-trash in it of course, but I hope I’ve condensed most of it from the around 150 pages worth of content. (Yes, you read that right – 150. That does seem excessive for a portfolio, but it actually isn’t that much, as they are double sided, and there were actually two portfolios, not one) So think of it as two 25 page portfolios really, plus extra content. Due to the immense quantity of work, I’ve cut out the majority and just focused on a few and will not have time to explain the details of each project.

The work inside was since March, so about 12 weeks worth of work, and the portfolio itself only had a week to create everything.

Note that for those who have been stalking me on WIPUP, some of this won’t be new stuff.

The portfolios were both presented in a stylishly hand-made briefcase. Yes, it is upside-down in the picture above. That briefcase was also the first proper physical object I’ve built before, so I”m quite pleased with how it turned out. An A3 sheet of paper fits very snugly inside.

Upon opening the briefcase, the audience is overwhelmed with tons of gewgaws and knick-knacks of every kind. For one of my courses, we were situated on the imaginary town of Cliffton (which has a landmark cliff, surprise surprise), upon which my building was a kayak manufacturing plant. The portfolio was designed as though a tourist had stumbled through the town and picked up trash along the way.

Looks exciting, eh? Well, let’s toss out the dodgily crafted kayak (needs lots of work) and the business cards with tiny sketches and drawings on them and look further.

The bulk of the portfolios were presented in two hand-bound hardcover books of cropped A3 and A4 sizes respectively. These held the parts which couldn’t be presented in more interesting formats. The A3 cover seems to have bent for some odd reason, perhaps its the glue.

The portfolio design itself was a very minimalist grid layout that some might remember first cropped up in my experimental web-folio user interface. Just smack in the center of the page. Pages were laid out in a “text” on the left, and “image-only” on the right per spread.

The left would always follow the same layout, and slowly build and construct an increasingly complex timeline of events as the person progressed further through the book. I found it a great way to put the work into perspective as well as to make the “text-only” section not so boring.

Some pages, however, with the more interesting technical drawings were complete spreads to-the-edge. The above we see a proposed abstract and conceptual transformation of the “CarriageWorks” site (a rather hip place here in Sydney, recently hosting TEDxSydney).

… as well as full-page renders, of course. People do like eyecandy.

… some of the more diagrammatic pages with thin strips through the page spread …

… and of course the napkin-sketches that show the birth of ideas.

More full-page renders – there is a lot of detail in these renders, which is why I chose the rather bulky pagesize of A3. (I find A3 landscape books rather cumbersome, but it was a necessary evil)

One of my projects involved the insertion of a set of rails and tracks into a back lane such that existing elements could be transformed and reattached into new layouts such that they performed different functions. (This wasn’t for the design course, but rather for the communications aspect, so let’s not look at why people would want to sit on bins and trip over tracks)

It was appropriate to create an IKEA-esque instruction manual (a separately provided A5 handbook) as to how to assemble the product, aptly named Konstruera Bagar. (name chosen by Erik Kylen) It means “Construct Arc”, I am told.

The insides are full of bad Swedish puns, unnecesary Swedish accents, and completely incorrect grammar, but let’s not get into that. It is, of course, also available in 80 different languages.

The design portfolio (the A4 book) favoured a more clean-cut “photos-only” showcase rather than the heavily diagrammatic approach of the communciations portfolio.

… here we see some of the detail in the tilework of the models done during design …

Along with the design book, a small fold-out visitors’ guide to Cliffton map was presented, offering both very scenic views and maps of the surrounding area and context, as well as a charming watercolour rendition of the building on the back – oh, and of course free coupons you can cut out.

My tutor was also invited to the monthly KayakersAnonymous pre-meeting congregation, showcasing the community areas of the building, and the various zonings that changed depending on the time of day.

Here we have the Kayak Maintenance Guide. It is probably important to mention that our imaginary town’s primary transportation system was kayaking through a system of canals. My building was essentially the town garage.

Apart from blabbering on about your warranty, the maintenance guide also details how to service your kayak, as well as exposes the internal processes of the buildings and various circulation paths you can take to minimize further damage to your kayak when coming to the building.

What briefcase would be complete without a newspaper clipping from the “Cliffton Times”, mischieviously dated Nov 11, 1918. It details the proposal of the building as well as the zoning decisions that were made within and outside the building site. It also pokes fun at some of my other group members – why not :)

Finally, two A1 panels of the final presentations from each subject.

Well, I hope that was interesting! I might post a PDF of the documents themselves, but that’s going to have to wait.

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Back in business

The past month and a bit has been terribly hectic, working on our last pieces of our various projects and preparing for portfolio submissions which happened on Monday and yesterday. Sleep had been lost, excessive eating out due to time constraints, and in general all other projects slowed down to a crawl.

Now, however, the two portfolios have been submitted, and so the bulk of the work is gone. There are still classes going on, but not for much longer, and the workload for them is pitiful compared to the portfolios. This means I’m back in business, first catching up with my freelance, which have clients waiting, and then the Summer of KDE project, ThoughtScore, WIPUP, and perhaps some music.

I am a little disappointed that I couldn’t join the KDE WebWorld sprint due to my semester still going on, but hopefully I’ll still be able to put in contributions despite not physically being there.

Anyways, for those who haven’t already seen, here is a sneak peek at my portfolio (in horrible phone-camera quality):

So, now that I’ve caught up on sleep, back to work!

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WIPUP 22.04.11b released!

WIPUP is a way for you to share your long-term projects and discover the passions of others.

Easter has started, and lots of interesting things are cropping up here and there – one of which is that WIPUP has seen a much-needed update. The last time this happened was way back in November, which is a stunning 5 months ago (yes, that’s almost half a year – doesn’t time fly?).

(Yes, it’s such a cliched and overdone splash screen – click it to read the release notes)

This release, unfortunately, isn’t a big one either. There weren’t any new features added at all, but instead consisted simply of visual polishing here and there to make it a more pleasant system to use and look at.

The reason for such a minor release after all this time is that WIPUP is maturing. WIPUP is aimed at a rather niche group – people who firstly are working on a moderate-to-long-term project. That already cuts out the average joe on the street. Then, that project must be something they are able to, and want to, share. That cuts out the majority of company-funded or commercial projects, as well as every person who is uncomfortable with showing work they think is “bad” and “incomplete”. WIPUP continues to slice away at the market by aiming at those who are comfortable with using a third-party system to host it, rather than their own setup, even though WIPUP is open-source and has an API.

For this niche, it satisfies all of its needs.

This niche – of which the target audience is (rather selfishly) myself.

Yes. You read that right. WIPUP was created for myself. If other people find it useful, then that’s great for them too. But all in all, I created this tool because I needed it. The idea for WIPUP was born by my desire to document the ThoughtScore project – my pet movie – in a more sane way than an increasingly large thread on the BlenderArtists forums. Has it succeeded? Yes. Is it still in use for that? Yes. It’s also used by me to document my work on the KDE.org redesign. It’s also used on my localhost to organise my scraps of work I produce for my architecture course, which will then be compiled into my portfolio.

What is my ambition?

Despite its selfish beginnings, there is a reason WIPUP was made open-source and then added the Open Collaboration Services API. This is because I have an ambition for WIPUP. I want it to be used by the end-users of open-source projects.

People are fascinating. The people who indulge in open-source are even more fascinating, because the average person is passionate enough about a cause like the open-source movement to turn it into their computing life, which is a large element of our lives nowadays. From that, most of you are working on really interesting projects on the side – learning a language, writing a book, composing a song, making a movie. I want WIPUP to exhibit the weird and wonderful of your creations – to emphasise and expose open-source’s greatest strength: the community. I’ve realised that when I threw myself in the wacky world of open-source that I discovered a goldmine of knowledge and passion. I want everybody to realise that too – and be proud of it.

What is your ambition?

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The kde-www war: part 4

A brief history lesson. The introduction identifies KDE.org as a wall of text with a pretty frame and explains why there is a problem. Part 1 sets conversion goals on our two target markets. Part 2 restructures the sitemap to make sense. Part 3 dabbles a bit on concluding the design criteria for the homepage, and reveals the homepage.

In this part, we’re going to take a step back to the release of the homepage design from part 3, and talk a little bit about the science and justifications behind the design. Firstly, a quick note that the design was tweaked slightly after part 3, as the tweaked version can be viewed here.

All webdesigns are made up of three vital elements that work together to make a successful design. Keep in mind that these elements should be considered not just in webdesign but also by application developers.

Notice how the criteria outlined in part 3 addressed each of those 3 concerns directly. Now let’s took at how we’ve satisfied the criteria.

Let’s just briefly skim through brand – we have addressed this by emphasizing KDE’s visual identity:

  • The design has blue and white as its primary colours, which are KDE’s primary and secondary colours respectively.
  • Every single environmental visual element (ie – headers, footers, and non-content elements) on the page used visual styles from Plasma’s Air and Oxygen styles.
  • Every single functional visual elements (ie- the content element) on the page used KWin’s Air widget style.
  • All graphical symbology use Oxygen icons, especially to thematically link together concepts across the design.
  • The radical design choice of KDE’s first non-bordered layout corresponds to KDE’s philosophies of “Experience Freedom”, “Be Free” and “Breathe”.
  • The lightened fonts after tweaking now also corresponds to KDE’s aforementioned philosophies.
  • The iconic Kabel font is used for the KDE logo.

Now we can ask ourselves when we ask “What does KDE look like?“, as soon as we lay our eyes on this design, we can firmly answer “Yes. Of course! That is KDE!

Now let’s look at the content. Content should always come before function, as it sets the scene and helps our users understand what they should expect from the page. We start by giving the most important bite-sized factoids: what is new and awesome, for our existing users audience, and what is this KDE anyway? for our new users audience. We do this by giving a large banner to represent the latest news for the existing users, as well as a large, digestible (free from jargon) definition for the new users. What is more important is if we study why we placed the elements exactly where they are. Let’s study the eye-movements as a user scans the webpage – red being spending more time looking at it, and green being quick glances:

Firstly, let’s just jump back to reality. It is important to realise that people do not scan a page top-down, they glance top-down, then return to the top then proceed to zig-zag occasionally. This means that some people might jump from 2-5, instead of 2-3 (ie- visually oriented people). Also, people do not analyse in detail whilst glancing through – they search for vital factoids and discard everything else. These have good and bad implications:

The good – this pattern and step-by-step process to grasp interest is aligned with the goals/roadmap we outlined in part 1 of this series.

The bad – we are heavily relying on the effectiveness of elements 2 and 3 to provide the vital factoids.  These must grasp interest. Element 3 will target the text-orientated people, who will hopefully see:

Notice how we have successfully separated people from product, and are marketing KDE as a community. The user is immediately not looking at “Hey, download powerful software and a new desktop interface!” (akin to “hey, get free animated emoticons now!“), but instead looking at “Hey, I’m the most important person here, and something is happening which involves me. Something to do with powerful software and beautiful desktops, which are lovely keywords which everybody can say ‘yes I want it’ to. What am I missing out on?“. This will bring them to element 5 – to Discover KDE, and start their journey.

For the picture-oriented people, element 2 is our vital grasper. As the design stands now, it is obvious that the eye lingers longer over the left side of the image (put the more beautiful part of the image there, then?) but otherwise the image is completely unenticing and uninformative. It shows a rotated desktop screenshot and that’s it. This is bad. This should be changed. The blurb is useful though, as it not only says there is some sort of release with a really long fancy name (Software Compilation, anybody? 6 syllables?), but also zeroes into the single key features why it is so awesome. However there is clearly work to be done on defining a visual style for the header image.

Finally, let’s look at the function. What the user will want to do on the webpage.

This is a little tricky, as the homepage is a hub, not a content deliverer. It’s function is as a signpost and not an infographic. For this the design’s function is to direct users to the right page, and allow the user to understand the structure of the webpage, so that he knows exactly what to do next and how things are categorised.

We’ve already done a bit of this by piquing new users’ interests with the blurb and having their eye naturally fall onto the “Discover KDE” part. However let’s take this a step further by thematically linking certain keywords on the page through sequencing them in the same way, as well as using visual icons to mark their similarities. This can be seen below:

This helps the user understand the site’s structure, or three main “sections”, and emphasises their importance through repeating the sequence again and again. Thus the “About” and “Give Back” sections are already given less priority as expected given our goals outlined in part 1 as well as our restructuring labels in part 2, without entirely ignoring them.

This also performs a very important function of all design: the ability to give the user the impression that they have freedom to choose a path, that they are in control, but subliminally guiding them through a sequenced, optimum path. The user is presented with – yes – the entire sitemap. They can read through every single link and understand exactly what the page contains, but are still inclined to follow the three set paths for them. Also shown in the tweaked layout is that only the Community column is highlighted whereas other sections are greyed out – this will not be so on the homepage (all will be greyed out) but this helps users understand which section they belong in (other colour visual indicators will be in play later). This achieves the structural segregation that the original redesign was aiming for, without being too intrusive or clunky.

I’m going to stop here. Those were the main points I wanted to talk about to help raise awareness of the importance of design. I hope you enjoyed this series, and I’ve submitted it as a GSoC proposal, so if all goes well, we can start seeing things live soon!