Posts by Mike Ellis

Find out more about Mike.

Creating flexible content with Advanced Custom Fields

We continue to be hugely impressed with the Advanced Custom Fields WordPress plugin which we first wrote about last year.

The latest paid-for field type which has been rolled out is one called the Flexible Content Field. On the surface it looks a little bit baffling, but on closer examination we think it could be a bit of a game-changer when it comes to devising modular, flexible layouts.

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Storm news roundup 13-01-12

Our favourite web(ish) stories from the week…

Adam:

“The Raspberry Pi has started to be manufactured – in the Far East. The start of manufacturing is an achievement to be celebrated. The device, which will cost around £16-23, packs some serious punch:

‘HDMI for connection to a TV, USB for the keyboard, SD card for storage, and runs Linux on an ARM chip, with OpenGL ES 2.0 for the graphics. Its 700MHz ARM-11 processor is supported with 128MB of on-board memory.’

(source: reghardware.com)

The more expensive Model B chip will also come with 10/100Mb/s Ethernet. However, the fact that a UK charity is having to build a UK designed piece of hardware outside of the UK is not to be celebrated. They tried, boy did they try, but there was one significant stumbling block:

‘Simply put, if we build the Raspberry Pi in Britain, we have to pay a lot more tax. If a British company imports components, it has to pay tax on those (and most components are not made in the UK). If, however, a completed device is made abroad and imported into the UK – with all of those components soldered onto it – it does not attract any import duty at all.’

Now to my mind, that is just about as backwards as a tax system can possibly be when you want to encourage a resurgence in manufacturing in the UK. If you agree, please sign this E-petition.

Paul:

“The Education Secretary Michael Gove announced to broad acclaim (often from those of us unaccustomed to agreeing with him on anything much) from those in the software industry that the ICT curriculum is going to be overhauled, with a greater concentration on the fundamentals of computer science, logic and programming, rather than teaching people how to use products like Word and Powerpoint.

Gove summed it up pretty well: ‘Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own apps for smartphones.’ “

Mike:

“The Google ‘Search, plus your world‘ feature (put simply: Google+ network activity pops up as search results) has dominated lots of tech headlines this week. One of the most interesting pieces about it was this one on The Daily Beast which suggests that Google is actually doing this to break into Facebook’s walled garden, albeit in a fairly spectacular roundabout route…”

Felix, Liam and Andrew all picked up on the SOPA blackout story:

Felix:

“Reddit and I Can Has Cheezburger will be closing their sites on the 18th January in protest of the SOPA internet censorship bill, and Wikipedia editors are having a fierce debate whether to join in”

Liam:

“Next Wednesday, the ‘front page of the internet’, Reddit, will be turning off for 12 hours, to protest the proposed US law known as SOPA. They hope to encourage more websites to join them, with a few names stepping up to make a stand.”

Andrew:

“In news that can only further galvanize the growing anti SOPA coalition, the latest internet juggernaut has chosen to side with the likes of Reddit and Mozilla to send a message of defiance to the proponents of the impending ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’.

In what is being hailed as one of the most monumental days in the internets history, internet comedy auteurs ‘I can haz cheezburger’ has allied itself to the anti SOPA cause, choosing to blackout all aspects of it’s hilarious meme-based original content on the 18th of this month.

I can only say i’m glad that i can one day say to my future children that I witnessed it – the day the Berlin wall fell, the day Nelson Mandela was freed from his years of incarceration, and the day icanhazcheezburger.com went dark in protest to SOPA”


Storm news roundup 06-01-12

Our favourite web(ish) stories from the week…

Adam:

“Windows 8 is going to have a very sexy new feature called Storage Spaces. This is effectively RAID for the masses – hiding all the gnarly details while still offering a wide range of powerful features. They are offering mirroring and parity redundancy as well as the ability to bolt together heterogeneous disks to form a storage pool. That basically means you can take you internal hard drives, external USB drives or SAS drives, all of different speeds and capacity and have them act as one big hard drive. If they pull this off then it’ll be awesome. You’d no longer need a £500 Drobo to provide a convenient, reliable way to handle multimedia, just a bunch of USB external drives!”

Paul:

“In probably one of the most extreme examples of why you should be careful of using Paypal when selling, they instructed an unsatisfied buyer to destroy an antique violin worth thousands of dollars before they would issue a refund”

Dave:

“My news for this week is about the much-anticipated ‘http://hasliamgladdywatchedstarwarsyet.info‘. It may come as a shock to many of you, but our very own Liam Gladdy has not watched any of the Star Wars films.

We learnt recently that Liam was motivated most by earning achievements and unlocking badges. As such, the http://hasliamgladdywatchedstarwarsyet.info website comes with a progress saber where you can keep up to date with Liam’s progress. We hear that v2 is in the pipeline, and comes with unlockable badges and achievements.”

Mike:

” ‘…the action figure comes with a pair of black socks, some glasses, a leather belt, two apples (one with a bite taken out of it), a bar stool and a ‘one more thing’ backdrop’.

Yes, it’s a Steve Jobs action doll, and Apple aren’t too happy about it – apparently claiming that they own the rights to the likeness of the late Apple founder.  And no – this isn’t in The Onion, it’s in The Telegraph.”

Liam:

“It’s CES time again! Yup, the biggest week of the year for consumer electronics starts next week, and we’re bound to have a bumper crop of news and gadgets to be tweeting about. You can follow all of the latest news from CES at http://www.theverge.com/ces or read their preview of the event here.”

Andrew:

“SOPA is becoming more and more of a toxic entity to be associated with, as Sony become the latest target this week, with Anonymous announcing that they plan to target the company for their continued support of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In the light of the mass Go Daddy exodus, who will be next to distance themselves from the controversial proposed legislation?”

 

Things Storm bookmarked this week 04/01/12

Liam:

Happy New Year! My bookmark to start 2012 is batman.js – It’s a nice little CoffeeScript or Javascript framework for building web apps. You can find more info at http://batmanjs.org/ – or have a look at some pretty examples

Adam:

A couple of libraries that devs might like.

Chosen is a jQuery plugin to make super sexy drop-down lists with auto-complete. It should be very useful for making long drop-downs far more user friendly.

Thinking Sphinx is a Ruby library to bring Sphinx full text search into ActiveRecord and looks really easy to get started with. Full text search is needed when you want decent search results on strings and Sphinx is one of the leading open-source solutions, so this plugin should come in very handy!

Andrew:

This week a link that i have actually bookmarked- http://www.codecademy.com.  Just released, it is a user-friendly introduction to programming for those of us not gifted in the art of development. it uses pretty badges and you can track your progress and compare it with friends. Having only just been released, its library of classes is quite small, but hopefully as time passes and the site’s profile grows, so will the tutorials.

Paul:

At the Storm Christmas do I was surprised that my colleagues had never heard of The Mother of All Demos. Back in 1968 Doug Englebert demoed a system his team at SRI had been working on since 1963 and featured the first computer mouse, hypertext, collaborative editing, video conferencing and many other ideas that would take decades to become commonplace. It’s a great reminder of how so many of the things we think of as new have been kicking around for years, it just takes time for technology to catch up. The entire demo is available on Stanford’s website as bite-sized pieces, or as one 100 minute video

Mike:

My bookmark this week is very much based on the fact we’re probably all looking for something that isn’t work to remind us of the holidays just gone. Little Alchemy is a beautifully simple game where you combine two elements to create a new one. Then you do it again and again. Then you realise you’ve only got about 18 out of a possible 220, and go slowly bonkers trying to work out the others. Exactly what is required when there aren’t enough mince pies around”

Dave:

A really slick work-orientated recommendation engine that uses your twitter network to find opportunities that are well suited to you. WorkFu  is brought to you by, amongst others, one of our Bath friends Mike Kus.

Scott:

Real life Wipeout!

Things Storm bookmarked this week 14/12/11

This week..

Scott: “An awesome video showing a cool proof of concept using 500 sensors with very small time delays to capture the path of small pulses of light travelling through objects”

Adam: ”I recently discovered nCrunch – a very elegant way to automatically run .NET unit tests within Visual Studio and have a visual indication of test coverage. Simple. Effective. Brilliant. Also, I’ve been diving head-long into my first major Ruby on Rails project this week and have found the Rails Guides massively useful”

Dave: ”Some amazing use of CSS3 to create lighting effects in the browser”

Andrew: “A nice practical article I’ve bookmarked on the the importance of UX sketching. I find a lot of value is added to fleshing out ideas on paper, it’s a far more transient process than jumping straight to Photoshop and recommend it to anybody that doesn’t sketch out ideas in the preliminary stages of a project”

Paul: “If you are a TextMate user you’ll know we’ve been waiting rather a long time for TextMate 2.0. Yesterday MacroMates (two years after announcing it was “almost ready”) released an alpha of TM 2.0, with a blog post over here. It’s still a way away from completion, but there are some nice features, like automatic downloading of highlighting grammars, and smoother installation/updating of bundles. And the project draw has bitten the dust. Despite being an alpha release it seems pretty stable. Good enough that I’m using for work and home.”

Mike: ”Although I tend to get funny looks when I talk about non-digital stuff here at Storm HQ, I’m a massive fan of tangible stuff like old-school print. Things like this excite me – so I was totally delighted to read “Twitter by Post” from my friend Giles Turnbull. He’s ace. You should follow him and stuff.”

Storm news roundup 09-12-11

Our favourite web(ish) stories from the week…

Adam:

“Google has released an open call for social networks (read Twitter & Facebook) to start participating in a new project called Analytics Social Data Hub.

The new project is ‘a free platform that social networks and other social platforms can use to integrate their activity streams— like +1, votes, and comments—with Google Analytics’. Sounds pretty awesome to me and will add a rich new layer to the already fantastic information you can pull out of Google Analytics.

Google already has Google Plus, Digg, Reddit and a few others signed up, but to make the service really worthwhile, they need deals with Facebook and Twitter.”

Paul:

“Two related news stories signal interesting times ahead for the world of ebooks.

Both the European Commission the US DoJ are investigating the so-called “agency” pricing model for being anticompetitive. This seems self evident to me. The idea that a publisher should get to set the *retail* price that a store charges for their books has always seemed wrong, whether it’s a dead-tree or ebook. The idea that Amazon cannot sell me a book cheaper (while still paying the publisher the same) because that would somehow “devalue” the book is frankly ludicrous. The book publishing industry is increasingly looking even more self-destructive than the music and film industries. http://www.theverge.com/2011/12/8/2620127/ebook-price-fixing

Amazon fired a small shot across the bow of the self-same publishing companies with the launch of KDP Select (KDP = Kindle Direct Self-Publishing). Self-publishing authors who sign up agree to let their books be put in the Kindle Lending Library and will receive a share of $500,000 based on the number of times there book is borrowed. So if 1% of all loans that month were for your book you’d make a reasonable $5,000. There’s a 90 day exclusivity period, but that seems a small concession. After having the KLL snubbed by the major publishers last month, Amazon has clearly decided that it is deadly serious about becoming a publisher in its own right. http://www.theverge.com/2011/12/8/2620807/amazon-kdp-select-self-published-kindle-lending-library”

Dave:

“So, I can’t claim to be a Siri expert, but I have played with it – and wasn’t a fan what so ever. Interestingly, I picked up on this article on the chron blog – the general feeling is that Siri is clearly a fantastic idea, and that Apple has a fantastic opportunity to hone the technology for inclusion in later devices such as Apple TV’s. However, Siri’s rough edges make it feel like a real ‘beta’ product, and Beta isn’t something that Apple ever really lets the public near.”

Mike:

“So hard to choose between new Twitter homepages (yawn), new Google products (yawn) and Europe (yawn). My favourite thing of the week isn’t really news, but it is a real-time stream of Wikipedia edits. Ace.”

Liam:

“Microsoft are taking on the Apple geniuses, with their Answer Desk online service. While it’s been a feature of Microsoft stores in the US for a while, it’s now available online and lets you buy training, “Tune-ups”, Virus removal and software support. All seems a bit of a waste of money to me, really, but i’m sure it’ll be useful to less techy folks!”

Andrew:

“Check out this TED video about Captcha and some of the ideas around how else to use small contributions by many on the Internet for greater good”

Things Storm bookmarked this week 07/12/11

This week…

Andrew: “The latest chapter in Apple’s ludicrous legal action against all and sundry has emerged this week, culminating in perhaps the stupidest of their legal challenges yet- asserting that certain aspects of their iphone designs should be protected under intellectual property law and that Samsung, whom they had taken legal action against, should have avoided Apple’s unique design traits, which they described as follows:

Front surface that isn’t black.
Overall shape that isn’t rectangular, or doesn’t have rounded corners.
Display screens that aren’t centered on the front face and have substantial lateral borders.
Front surfaces with substantial adornment.

So there you have it, only Apple are henceforth allowed to produce rectangular mobile phones, sorry other mobile tech companies, back to the drawing board with you. I hear triangles are pretty cool”

Kat: “I liked this, and can think of a few people it would make a good Christmas present for…”

Adam: “So, last week GCHQ posted the Can You Crack It challenge to find potential candidates for new cyber spys. It didn’t take too long for Dr Gareth Owen of the University of Greenwich to solve the tasks and post a full explanation. Some of the details are quite fascinating.

However, rumours are now circulating that there may be a hidden 4th task within the puzzle – perhaps even the ‘real’ challenge. GCHQ have strongly denied this is the case, but I’m not convinced. After all, they wouldn’t be very good at spying if they handed over all their secrets, would they!? And only the very best are likely to find this hidden task.”

Liam: “Following on from our recent love on Twitter Bootstrap, a new tool has emerged for base frame working, called Foundation. It gives you a bunch of prewritten code that makes building prototypes and foundation styles, effects and animations easy”

Paul: “As a Ruby dev, MacRuby is awesome: it lets you write native apps for OS X in Ruby. Here’s a campaign to encourage Apple to let us all use Ruby to develop iOS. Internally Apple seem to quite like Ruby as it shares a lot of concepts (but thankfully not syntax) with Objective-C, so there is some hope that this might just happen”

Mike: ”Music + hacking, probably them bestest combination of stuff in the world. Techno Is The Word.”

Dave: “This week, I bookmarked a prototype screen that creates the feeling of texture. Thats all there is to say really..”

Scott: ”The difference between Batman and Superman

Storm news roundup 02-12-11

Our favourite web(ish) stories from the week…

Adam and Liam both went for the CarrierIQ thing:

Adam: “This week the world found out about the hilarity that is CarrierIQ. The ‘usage pattern analysis’ software that should be capturing data on how users use their phone to help device makers improve future models, is in fact doing a little bit more, from Daring Fireball:

‘On HTC Android phones, the Carrier IQ daemon logs the following: every number you press in the phone dialer, every key you type on the keyboard, every SMS message you receive, every URL you open in the web browser, every app you open, all media playback, and your location. There is no visible sign that this is running, the process is hidden from the process viewer, and there is no way to turn it off.’

Lovely. Heads must roll surely? Perhaps we should take the carrier bosses out and shoot them in front of their families :-)”

Liam: “…reports suggests that 150 million devices have been shipped with software by Carrier IQ, with no one really sure what exactly the software does – but on HTC devices it’s been found to log every single key press, including your passwords, and then transmit data to Carrier IQ. The US government is now getting involved trying to figure out what is being logged by which manufacturers and devices, but I suspect this is going to become a much bigger story once that information is known

Dave:

An interesting bit of news from the folks over at YouTube – A rather large update to their video analytics services. According to Youtube the reports are now even more detailed, allowing you to ‘have a more precise understanding of your content and audiences.’ There are also some new features in the form for Audience Builders and Audience Retention stats. For anybody looking for an overview, there is a lovely infographic over hereor for a full run down, head over to this article.

Mike:

“55 seconds, apparently, is the time the average man spends standing at a urinal – a total of nine months over the course of their lifetimes. Makes perfect sense, therefore, that someone has invented a urinal-mounted, urine-controlled game. Right….? Right…?”

Andrew:

My favourite news story of the week has to be the UK intelligence agency GCHQs unique recruitment drive for new spies- by inviting would be code crackers the chance of an interview by breaking a cryptic code online.

The single page website began popping up on social networks earlier this week, the site depicting a series of seemingly random numbers and letters, along with a submission area for the hidden word.

The site follows a government statement in the 2011 Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report, in which there was expressed a concern about GCHQ’s inability to “retain a suitable cadre of internet specialists to respond to threats.”

A friend of mine, who holds a position within a government intelligence agency, offered an interesting perspective of the story, telling me that the limited numbers of specialists within GCHQ may have something to do with the fact that such positions offer salaries of £21,000, while similar positions in private companies can fetch over £60,000. He commented that in his opinion, if the UK wants to keep up with the big boys it will have to pump a little more money into the intelligence sector than is currently being allocated.

Things Storm bookmarked this week 30/11/11

This week…

Adam: “An absolutely fantastic read on why working 100-hour weeks in the name of ‘start up glory’ is utter stupidity. Don’t waste your one and only youth! Also, amused that the ‘you can’t say fuck on the Internet’ gang are out in force attacking Amy, when the piece is so very well written!”

Liam: “My bookmark for the week is the british newspaper archive. It’s a really neat little web app that has taken thousands of hours of work scanning 200 year old newspapers and performing OCR to make them searchable on the web”

Andrew: “Today I learned you can mine gold from old motherboards. With the amount of unused tech knocking about the Storm office, I’m considering pitching the idea of jacking the website building in and investing in an office chemistry set..”

Dave: “So, Apple & Facebook have both done well by leveraging third-party devs – and it looks like Spotify will soon be following suit. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of applications come flying out of the Spotify API – I’m sure we’re in for some awesome mashups!”

Paul: “Groupon: ‘Nuff said, really.”

Mike: “Lots of interesting stuff this week but easily the best for me was this post by Russell Davies in which he says this: ‘…[in 2009]…it was already too late to be merely Thinking Digital and we had to try and get beyond that kind of trammelled and limiting mindset”. The point – in short – is that the collision of physical and digital should make for something interesting: ‘being digital should be more interesting than just being electronic’. As a man who thinks a lot about what mobile really means, builds internet-connected receipt printers and thinks about whether we should have a Bath Digital newspaper, this is music to my ears”

Things Storm bookmarked this week 23/11/11

This week…

Dave: “I happen to have been involved in bunch of group discussions this week, which due to geographical constraints have taken place online. As such, I have been introduced to https://freedcamp.com. It is similar to google groups, only much easier to administer and less based around email. I must say first impressions are fantastic. With features such as Discussions, To-Do’s, File-storage and more, it’s a fantastically clean way to create discussions online. It’s core benefit is that your user isn’t tied to a group – so you can be in discussions with multiple groups of people.”

From me: My good friend and well-worth-following-on-Twitter-person @zambonini just posted a link to this which I’m going to steal as my bookmark of the week: http://facedetection.jaysalvat.com/ – yes, a Face Detection jQuery Plugin. What a ridiculously cool thing.

From Paul: “We’ve previously used the Formtastic gem for building forms in Rails, but the HTML is generates can be a bit… interesting, and awkward to change. So we’ve now switched to using the simple_form gem, which has the same DSL, but generates nicer HTML and is easier to customise. https://github.com/plataformatec/simple_form

Adam pointed this out to me – we haven’t read it yet, but he’s right – it does look like a very interesting piece on best practice when developing cloud-based applications.