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Posts categorised by: "Random Thoughts"

What's Currently Wrong With Star Trek Franchise?

Posted in: Random Thoughts

NOTE: I write this post as a person who just appreciates the Star Trek movie franchise. Not as a massive fan.

Star Trek has always had a special place in my heart for as long as I can remember. The moment I sat down with my Dad and watched Star Trek III: Search for Spock with fresh new eyes, I was instantly grabbed by the action, ships, characters and vastness of space. It didn't take me long to understand the basic premise of the show even if I didn't completely understand the plot points.

I've dabbled in and out of the franchise over the years. But ever since the reboot in 2009, I have gained a renewed interest and started to look back at the classic movies with much fondness and appreciation. I truly admire how clever and gripping they were. Of course, there are some bad eggs when it came to the sequels (I'm talking about you Star Trek V!), nevertheless, they always managed to have memorable scenes.

Thoughts On The New Trek

I thought the reboot was off to a great start (no matter what the naysayers say), JJ Abrams managed to give Star Trek the kick in the butt it (quite frankly!) needed and looked forward to many more adventures with the characters I have grown to love. Star Trek became exciting again!

Four years later, we were given Star Trek Into Darkness and I remember leaving the cinema quite satisfied. But after I let the film digest within my subconscious, I started to pick holes in the storyline and came to the conclusion the highly anticipated sequel didn't actually offer anything new. It felt like a remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn pure and simple, a film that I will always hold dear to my heart. A film that contains themes of revenge, coming of age, friendship and sacrifice.

So what's wrong with the current incarnation of Star Trek?

1) Lack of Continuity Between Films

One of the finest moment of the original films for me was the continuity between films that had an underlying theme that linked them together. Of course, I am talking about movies II - IV. It was quite satisfying seeing the characters develop and grow based on the decisions made from the previous films.

You might be thinking: What am I complaining about? The current reboot hasn't had a chance to grow yet?

Valid point. However, I believe this is something the writers could have done already. Planted the seed to grow in future adventures.

2) The Length of Time Between Sequels

The main problem with the Star Trek franchise is the length of time between installments. The films need to be out more frequently. Currently, the length of time between films is 4 years. This is too long, especially if a film hasn't been as strong in the story department, nor met the expectations of fans. I think it's safe to say Into Darkness was not embraced as positively when compared to the 2009 film.

What impact does this have? A big one. The momentum just disappears and the franchise has the added pressure of having to re-establish itself again to the public.

As it stands, the cast, designs and production are all delivered to a very high standard. But if the likes of Paramount spend too long about the story they wish to tell, they really need to get better script writers and directors with a coherent vision.

Come on Paramount! Pull your finger out!

3) Bring Writers In Who Aren't Fans of The Trek-lore

Some of the best Trek have come from people who aren't avid fans of the world of Star Trek. They have the ability to take a step back in order to create a unique and interesting vision. They take important facets of the characters and then weave Star Trek into the story.

I personally would love to see Nicholas Meyer have the opportunity to write the next installment. Now that would be something to look forward to!

4) Retreading The Same Ground

For those who have watched Star Trek in film or TV form and made a comparison with the current Trek movies, you would get a sense of deja-vu. As I've briefly stated above, there doesn't seem to be anything new being brought to the screens that we haven't already seen before, which is a little disappointing for the Trek veterans.

Into Darkness could have been the film to show something new and original. Retreading old ground in a universe purely built to tell new stories was never going to go down well.

5) No More Spock Prime

I loved seeing Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as Spock Prime in the 2009 reboot. It was pure genius and managed to make a connection with all previous films so that they still remained relevant. This was probably a ploy to get buy in from the proper Star Trek fans. I for one appreciated the sentiment.

However, it was unnecessary bringing him back for a brief appearance in Into Darkness and dare I say...a little cringe worthy.

Final Thoughts

There is so much to explore in the Star Trek universe and the formula to get Star Trek right is not as complex as it may seem. The script writers need to take a good hard look at what made the original films so successful (without plagiarising!) and make us a Trek film where no one has gone before...

What Prismic.io Is Lacking

Posted in: Random Thoughts

WARNING! I may sound like an absolute hypocrite when the contents of this post is compared to my earlier post on first impressions of the Prismic.io platform. So here we go...

I am starting to encounter increasingly longwinded and somewhat frustrating stumbling blocks during the development of a Prismic.io powered website due to lack of basic development related features. Fundamental features that should already be there from the start.

I understand that Prismic.io is a new platform and is still in its infancy, but not having something simple as a time attribute to a date field is unforgivable (which I will explain later).

The idea behind Prismic.io is to empower the developer and gives them the tools to manage the content anyway they want. Sounds great! But how can developers like myself be empowered when the tools that are provided are not up to scratch.

So I have picked a few things lacking in the Prismic.io platform. I'll probably add some more on completion of the project I'm working on.

1) Sorting By Date/Time

Now you'd think if you have a date field, a time field would be not too far away. Wrong! A document only contains a date format field that shows a calendar on selection. This works for general use. But what if you have numerous articles written in a day that are displayed on a page in descending order and you wish to move an article higher up the page? There is no time field to allow for this.

By default when using date ordering, two things happen:

  1. All documents are ordered by the date value defined in the document.
  2. If multiple documents added within a day, they are then ordered by the time it was added in Prismic.

For me, this was a pain.

2) Non-match predicate

Sometimes, you want the ability to exclude documents from a query. In my case, return a list of authors except for one or two. Since Prismic.io predicate language is lacking a "not" operator I had to return a full list of authors and carry out the filtering at application level.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn't a massive flaw. I can see this becoming an issue when you need to exclude items from a larger dataset. It would be faster to do this at Prismic level than application level.

3) Where's the "OR" Operator?

No really, I would like to know!

4) No Required or Validation Fields

It is not possible to make fields compulsory or implement any form of validation. Therefore, up to the developer to make sure suitable checks are put in place where null or incorrect values are present.

To me, this seems a little bit backwards and you're solely relying on the editors to ensure the all data is correct and complete.

5) WYSIWYG Editor Improvements

As I stated in my previous post, that one of main deciding factors to why I used Prismic over Contentful was its easy to use WYSIWYG editor. I still stand by this point. It seems to offer a mish-mash of features that feel very intelligent and basic at the same time.

The WYSIWYG functionality is based on a StructuredText field type, flexible enough to allow an amalgamation of different content, such as embedded object (from social websites), paragraphs, images, etc.

On the surface, StructuredText is really nice to work with but then all of a sudden you encounter a key missing feature: blockquote! The only way I could get around this is by getting editors to insert custom mark up around any text for transformation into a blockquote at application level, like so:

[BlockQuote][Hello. I would like to blockquote this text please.]

This was just the start. There were other instances where further customisation had to be made to meet the editors requirements.

I have to quote Paul Dijou here (link at bottom of post) for describing the additional changes he too had to make in a very theatrical manner:

A writer wanted to have blockquotes: a whole paragraph should be displayed in a custom design and have an author. I had to kill him really fast and bury his body deep. Another one wanted semantic distinction between paragraphs, something like: this one should be red and this one blue just because. Thrown him into a bucket full of piranhas.

6) Technical Support

A platform or technology can only ever be as successful as the infrastructure present to support it. Without it, cracks will form. Currently, there is only one place you can ask a question: https://qa.prismic.io. It's definitely no StackOverflow. You really have to hope and pray for someone to answer your question promptly.

7) Convoluted Production Workflow

There will come a time when additional changes to a live site will be required. Whether it be modifications to a field or addition for a new document. All these changes will have to happen on the live Prismic repository. There is no development > stage > live workflow.

It would be nice to have the ability to duplicate repositories and push new releases.

Thankfully, someone has already raised this. I don't see this addition happening anytime soon.

Summary

My intention is not to give a very negative impression of the Prismic.io platform. It will most likely meet your content management needs. However, it does have its faults and unless modifications are made to some of the points raised from others in their Q&A forum and my post, I will have to question whether I use it again on a project by project basis. It's a CMS platform that just falls short of the mark.

I recommend reading the following blog post written by Paul Dijou, describing his own experiences working with Prismic: http://platformpauldijou.fr/blog/2014/07/17/prismicio-when-happiness-met-disappointment.

NOTE: If I have stated something that I have got completely wrong due to a lack of understanding. Let me know and I'll take everything back! :-)

Prismic.io - Content Management for The Masses

Posted in: Random Thoughts

Generally, all Content Management Systems are tightly integrated into the websites they control to serve one key function: publish custom content. Almost as one singular entity. From the moment you choose a CMS, you shall be forever locked down by its required platform and technology.

So in terms of the CMS world, nothing revolutionary has happened to change our perception otherwise...until now...

I have been doing some research into some content management systems that sits externally from a platform (such as a website), giving you freedom to manage the content however you like and it something that's gaining a lot of traction. I am starting to see why.  In fact, I'm in the middle of building a site using one of these "externally" managed CMS platforms.

I would say the the main market players are Contentful and Prismic. They both are very similar in the features they provide and do a great job in delivering content to a platform of your choice through simply querying their native API's to return a nice JSON feed. So from a development perspective, they're both just as easy to integrate as each another and the deciding factors on the one you choose will primarily be:

  • Price
  • Ease of use
  • Editor features

Based on these factors alone, I found Prismic to be the ideal candidate to fulfill my clients needs and adding content was a pleasure. It probably has the nicest interface I've seen in a long time. Very quick, easy and has something Contentful didn't have: a nice WYSIWYG editor. The markdown editor alone in Contentful was a deal breaker and I feared it would add an additional learning curve for non-technical clients.

The only strange thing I noticed about Prismic was that you cannot add any form of validation or set a field to be required. Hopefully, this is something they will add to future releases. When you have other great features like an easy image upload to Amazon Cloud for resizing and cropping, having no validation isn't all that important. :-)

I am already more than halfway through my first Prismic managed website and the implementation couldn't be easier with the help of their forum and starter projects in the technology of your choice.

One of the fears I did have whilst implementing Prismic was how well will my pages load on high demand, especially when the content itself is external from the website. Would there be issues or delays in sending content to my platform? I guess this question is still yet to be answered. So far, the page speed has been better than expected (based on initial testing).

Prismic in a nutshell (stolen from their website):

prismic.io is a developer friendly, API-based approach to CMS. It features a Writing Room for content writers to author, manage and store content, and a Content Query API for developers to integrate managed content. Your content doesn't live "in a website / in websites", your project doesn't live "in a CMS"; rather, your content lives in one place and is shared across your websites, and your project lives absolutely anywhere you want.

Experts Exchange: Does The Pay for An Answer Model Work?

Posted in: Random Thoughts

In one word: No.

I've been an Experts Exchange user on and off over the last few years and always re-registered my Experts Exchange account, at times, out of pure desperation in the hope that a complex question of mine could be answered.

If I look back at all the questions I've asked throughout the year whilst being a fully paid member, the responses (or solutions as Experts Exchange call it) are by far not detailed enough for the price you pay. There have been many times when I've been very patiently waiting for some kind of response to my problem for days and even when highlighting to the moderator numerous times to get an expert to look into my issue, they seem to fail at the first hurdle...

If Experts Exchange was truly the forum where all these so called "experts" reside, they should have no problem in resolving or if not at least assisting me to a relevent solution. Majority of the time its hit or miss to whether an answer I could either find an answer from their "vast" knowledge-base.

The major problem I do have with Experts Exchange is that there is no refund policy and the customer support staff don't seem at all bothered by the fact that (in my case) four of my questions were not responded to. They are unable to see that you are paying them a service to do one thing: assist YOU!

Experts Exchange really need to rethink their pricing model considerably for the true service they provide. This has become ever so apparent since the dawn of a widely used and popular StackOverflow Q&A forum where I find the response rate higher.

Of course, I can only speak about my own experience and Experts Exchange is probably a great resource for others who are employed in a different sector of the IT industry. It all comes down to the expert answering your question. Some are really good, some not so good...

Unfortunately, it's unable to fulfil my needs. I've learnt my lesson and will not be renewing my subscription after my last cancellation.

Back in the day, there was a need for a paid service like Experts Exchange. But that's long since passed.

Stephen Elop's "Burning Platform" Memo Is Art

Posted in: Random Thoughts

Today, an article that (for some reason or another) resonated with me from yester-year popped up in in my news feed: The well known "Burning Platform" memo written by Stephen Elop - at a time when Nokia's future was uncertain. It describes Nokia's troubles as an oil rig on fire and radical changes will need to be made to ensure the company can continue to succeed in years to come.

As I look back at this infamous memo, I'm reminded how Elop manages to grab your attention in an artistic and well written way. I am instantly able to relate exactly to dire circumstances the CEO and it's workers face.

For those who don't know what I am talking about, here's an excerpt:

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

...

It’ll Be A Sad Day When iGoogle Is No More

Posted in: Random Thoughts

Amongst the number of services Google provides, iGoogle portal has to be at the top of my list. It’s my one stop shop for daily news, weather forecasts and playing the odd game. I was surprised when Google announced they will discontinue the service from November 2013. I was reminded by the deadline on my iGoogle page today, reinforcing that this is going to happen. I was hoping Google would reconsider but it doesn’t look like that's going to happen.

iGoogle Discontinued

Google’s decision to discontinue iGoogle in my opinion is a little rash. They claim: “With modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for something like iGoogle has eroded over time”. And this is where the problem lies. Why does everything nowadays have to evolve around an app? Some things are best left accessible through a browser.

I like getting to work in the mornings and gazing over the days topics. It’s bloody informative! I’ve yet to find an app that matches what iGoogle offers. iGoogle is a one page where everything is displayed without having to click to another page. Google Chrome's substitutes require me to do exactly that. Big waste of time.

I’m not the type of person to be concerned about change and in most cases I welcome it with open arms. But this will take a little time to get use to.

Goodbye old friend, you’ll be sorely missed!

Google Needn’t Worry About Facebook’s Advertising

Posted in: Random Thoughts

Today I came across this really interesting tweet on my Twitter timeline today:

Limited Run, posted on their Facebook profile stating that they would be deleting their account due to the amount Facebook is charging for clicks on their advertising. Here’s the interesting part: About 80% of the clicks Facebook charged Limited Run, JavaScript wasn't on. And if the person clicking the ad doesn't have JavaScript, it's very difficult for an analytics service to verify the click. Only 1-2% of people going to their site have JavaScript disabled, not 80% like the clicks coming from Facebook.

Interesting stuff.

Before Limited Run takes down their Facebook profile, I’ve attached a screenshot of their post below:

Limited Pressing Facebook Post

Reading this post today reminded me on a news article I read on “virtual likes” and how advertising through Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be any better off. It all comes down to the level of engagement user’s have with a profile page. If users are just liking the page and not interacting with your posts or general content, those likes are worth nothing. Some companies are wising up to the effectiveness of Facebook’s advertising strategy.

Limited Run isn’t the first to ditch Facebook ad’s, General Motor’s pulled away from Facebook ad’s earlier this year due to the ad’s Facebook produce do not have the visual impact needed to justify the cost.

I think certain aspects of Facebook is a joke filled mostly of people looking for attention, not an effective marketing tool.

To “.me”, or not to “.me”, that is the question…

Posted in: Random Thoughts

Location HTTPEver since I decided to expand my online presence, I thought the best step would be to have a better domain name. My current domain name is around twenty-nine characters in length. Ouch! So I was determined to find another name that was shorter and easier to remember.

Ever since “.me” top level domain (TLD) came out, I snapped up “surinder.me”, partly because all other domains with my first name were gone (you know who you are!) and the “.me” extension seemed to fulfil what I wanted my website to focus on. ME! Having said that, I would have loved to get a “.com” domain, but I guess that’s what happens when you enter the online world so late.

I was ready to move over all my content to “surinder.me” until one on my techy friends told me that things are still undecided when it comes to “.me” TLD’s in general. Originally, the “.me” extension was assigned to Montenegro’s locale only. But it’s fast gained traction over the years due to it’s simplicity and wide range of possible domain names. Even companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Wordpress and Samsung rushed to register their “.me” domains. Hence the reason why I decided to get one.

Companies seem to be using “.me” extensions for either URL shortening services or redirects to partner sites with “.com” extensions. It doesn’t fill me with much confidence when “.me” extensions are used this way. Google’s software engineer, Matt Cutts wrote a reassuring post on his Google+ profile earlier this year by stating:

“…regardless of the top-level domain (TLD). Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don't expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference over .com…If you want to register an entirely new TLD for other reasons, that's your choice, but you shouldn't register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you'll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.”

This should put all my “.me” fears to rest…right? Well it’s nice to know Google won’t penalise a site based on an extension. In the world of web, a search optimised site is king (as it should be). It’s nice that Google have given “.me” (as a country extension) global status given the nature of how its been used of late. But if you check Google’s Geotargetable Domains article, the text in brackets worries me.

Google’s Webmaster Tools Geotargetable Domains

 

I get the feeling you can’t go wrong with a “.com” domain providing you can find something meaningful to your cause. Steps are being made in the right direction for gccTLD’s. For example, Webmaster Tools gives you the option to geographically target your “.me” site. However, I can’t find anything concrete to alleviate my concerns in the long-run.

So where does this leave me? Well, we’ll just have to find out if my future domain contains a .me extension. Smile

The Ridiculous Price of A Domain

Posted in: Random Thoughts

I’ve been looking for a suitable replacement domain name for a while now and even making purchases that has some reference to my name. Since I’m not having much luck with new registrations, I decided to snoop around for domains that are up for sale. Lo and behold I found my ideal second-hand “.com” domain: surinder.com. However, there’s a catch…

Currently “surinder.com” sales price is £5000! Whaaaa!!!!!?????

Ridiculous price for surinder.com

I know Surinder is a really cool name and damn right popular with the ladies, but seriously £5000. Even I wouldn’t have the audacity to sell my domain for that much (offers will be accepted though :-) ).

When reading numerous articles on how domain names are valued, it seems to evolve around the sum of the domains generic value and the value of its traffic. So its not exactly clear cut. I highly recommend reading this post on “How To Value a Domain Name”, it has some really useful information.

Finally! Google Shows My Profile Information In Search Results

Posted in: Random Thoughts

Ever since Google+ came along, I noticed website authors were getting their picture displayed next to article’s they’ve written in Google searches. Not to be left out of this trend, I decided I would attempt to get my ugly-mug displayed next to all my authored content as well.

Having carried out almost all of Google’s requirements through minor HTML modifications and verifying my Google+ account is linked to this blog, it’s finally happened!

Author information in search results

You may find that it can take some time for authorship information to appear in search results. I carried out all necessary steps back in January 2012. So it’s taken a good 3 months to get picked up. I am sure times will vary depending on the popularity of your site and the number of authored content it contains.

Here are the four basic things I did to get my mug-shot in Google’s search results:

  1. Make sure your Google+ profile has a recognisable headshot photo of high quality.
  2. Link your site to your Google+ account by adding a badge.
  3. Verify your Google+ account with an email address containing your domain address.
  4. Add a link to your site in the “Contributor” box in your Google+ profile.
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