This weekend I discovered "Now, Next, Later" - an interesting new minimalist weather app by world-renowned hacker and tinkerer, Brendan Dawes. I've seen Mr Dawes speak twice now and I always find him to be really inspiring, so I was really interested to see what unique take he we would take on the well trodden weather app.
Firstly... all of the unnecessary junk is gone. NNL is minimal. The temperature is indicated through a simple number and the background colour of the app itself. Warmer temperatures are represented by warmer colours, cooler colours are for cooler temperatures. Weather like rain, cloud and wind is represented through a matrix-esque rain of + characters. The screen always shows the weather for your current location as it is now. A swipe down gives you an overview of today, and further swipes lets you see subsequent days. Swipe left and right to see other locations you have setup.
Now Next Later takes the interactive weather effects of the official Apple weather app and combines it with the minimalism of weather apps like Haze then distils it down to the purest possible experience. My inner designer loves everything about NNL, however Yahoo Weather is still my go-to weather app on my iPhone just because I love the beautiful photos that it sucks from Flickr. Despite this, Now Next Later will certainly be my weather app of choice on the iPad when Yahoo Weather isn't available or when I'm on mobile data and need to get the weather with the minimum amount of data usage.
Of all the weather apps in the app store, Now Next Later is definitely one of my favourites, and if you're looking for a pure weather experience with non of the fluff then I can highly recommend it.
Now Next Later is available on the app store for £1.49
So... I've had a pretty interesting weekend with a couple of discoveries that I thought I could share.
On Sunday, we went for a visit to the zoo and we noticed that some kids had managed to get the undivided attention of the seals and had them gathering around their window instead of just zipping around in circles like normal. The trick? Take a shiny coin and use it to bounce some light into the tank - the seals will see the shiny and come to investigate what is going on. They'll even play chase the coin if you slide it around on the window - my son absolutely loved getting to play with the seals!
In other news, I've started an iOS development course, sponsored by my awesome employer. I've been keen to learn more about iOS development for quite some time now and jumped at the opportunity to learn the basics and see if I can actually make stuff happen. The course is run by Big Nerd Ranch. The first two days were dedicated to Objective C and were taught by Mike Lee - formally of Apple and Delicious Monster!
As a web designer by trade, I found the jump up to real programming to be really quite challenging, but on day two we got to crack open interface builder and had a fully working todo list app up and running by the end of the day! (If you ever wondered why there are so many todo list apps in the app store, I think we've found out why!).
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Showing the first six of 114 images in this gallery. See all →
WordPress has been the blogging engine of choice for my site for many years now. I first started using WordPress back in 2005, after having started out with a cgi powered "news" script and then flirted with PMachine (the predecessor to Expression Engine), TextPattern and Moveable Type. With WordPress I thought I had finally found blogging Nirvana. And for a while, that held true. I've built blogs for myself, for my friends, I've created themes and plugins - I've even used WordPress to power e-commerce sites and attended WordCamp meetups.
However, In recent years I've started to become somewhat disillusioned with WordPress as it's moved away from a blogging engine and more towards a full blown CMS. WordPress feels like it's trying to be something for everyone. On top of that, the need to update the site every couple of days to keep it secure, and the constant influx of spam just ruined the whole WordPress experience for me. I had loved it, but that love was now lost and I needed to find something new, something simple, something light-weight, something fast.
I had looked into systems like Jekyll and WinterSmith.io, but I've been a PHP guy for as long as I can remember and the thought of configuring my server to run yet another language seemed like overkill, so I refocused my efforts and started looking for Jekyll-like flat-file CMS's that are written in PHP. And so, after over a year of looking into options, I decided to switch things around. Completely. I've dumped the database and I'm now running my site on a neat little CMS called Kirby. Kirby creates your site from a series of text files, that you keep organised on your server. Need a new post? No problem - just create a new file in the content directory, format it with MarkDown and hey presto! Instant blog post! Even the admin panel is completely optional.
Moving from WordPress to Kirby was challenging. The default script to convert WordPress posts to Kirby files did not like my site at all and repeatedly choked on "malformed characters" that had somehow ended up in my database. I was close to giving up, when I remembered that you can export all of your blog posts as XML, and so I wrote a quick script that takes the WordPress XML dump and runs through it, creating the necessary file structure for Kirby. It was dirty as hell, but it got the job done.
Things are still a bit of a mess around here - Kirby has a different URL structure to WordPress and WordPress just loves to hardcode links within files at the time of publishing so there may be some broken links. The dates are currently borked (all showing the date I moved over) and my new template is still under construction (but should be readable by this point). I'm planning to setup some redirects to ensure the old URL's continue to work, and I've got to have a tidy up and remove all those yucky WordPress shortcode tags that are littering the code but I already feel like things are getting better around here.
So, at least for my personal site, WordPress is no more. Feels good.
Joey. Joey. The box, with its implications of rigidity and squareness, symbolizes unimaginative thinking and painful frustration.
So... As I get older I seem to be getting worse and worse at this blogging malarkey but its ok, because these days I don't really have an awful lot to say. Sure, I could write a bunch of technical posts about web development and conversion optimisation but this has always been a personal blog about me - Andy Warburton and my funny little corner of the world. So that's what I'm going to stick to.
Last year the wife, sprog and myself upped sticks and moved to Amsterdam after I was offered what was possibly my dream job working at Booking.com. This job is great, I get to make changes to the website and prove their value by testing them, live on millions of daily users. I've done this kind of thing before, but never on such an amazing scale.
What makes it better is we work in an environment free of ego. There are no managers telling us what to do, we consider all ideas to be equal whether they come from the CEO or the guy that makes the coffee in the cafe. That is, until we put it to the test and actually measure it's value. Our mission is simply to make the website better for our users. It's a huge responsibility and a massive challenge, but it's also incredibly exciting, especially since we have amazing real-time data sources for tracking our experiments.
This alone would be enough to make me happy, but the job comes with another awesome perk; I get to live and work in Amsterdam. This is a city that has a reputation as being a haven for drugs and hookers, but it's so much more than that. Step away from the red-light district and you'll find a city that has a brilliant public transport system and awesome facilities all over but has magically managed to maintain a relaxed, almost village-like atmosphere. A city that's friendly, safe and chilled-out and has none of the stuck-up snobbery you associate with places like Paris and New York.
The only thing I miss from home is some of the typical British food, but that problem was recently rectified when Marks & Spencer's opened a new food hall just five minutes from my office. They have proper Cheddar cheese, bacon, pies and bread - and many more little things that I crave from time to time, M&S literally made my life here complete.
I LOVE Amsterdam and I love my job. Somehow I've managed to find the perfect home/life balance, working for a great company in a great city. I don't think I ever want to leave.
What my friends think I do...
What my family think I do...
What I actually do...
(post shamelessly stolen from The Amsterdam Life)
So my wife and I recently visited the world renowned Keukenhof World Garden and Tulip Festival in the Netherlands. Finding information on getting there using public transport wasn't incredibly easy so I've written up a quick guide to make your life easier:
Firstly... planning your trip. Don't go at the start of the season. We visited during the first week following a particularly cold winter and all of the tulips are still deep in the ground or just starting to poke out some greenery. I would advise that visiting towards the end of April to Mid-may would probably be your best bet, unless of course The Netherlands has been unseasonably warm during January and February, in which case, it's probably a great time to go.
Picture by Toni Escuder
Secondly... you do not need to buy tickets up front. They're easy to buy on the day 7 days a week and reasonably priced.
So for the rest of this guide, I'm going to assume you've made your way to Amsterdam and you're standing outside Amsterdam Centraal Station.
From Centraal, you want to get a a train to Schiphol Airport. You can buy return tickets for around €7 per person from the yellow machines in the lobby or from the handy ticket booth. Once you have your tickets, head down to the end of the platforms - usually platform 15a - and jump on the next train Schiphol. They run around every 15 minutes so you shouldn't be waiting long. The train takes about 20 minutes and will drop you off beneath the airport.
From Schiphol station, proceed up the escalators to the Airport main lobby and head inwards. You're looking for the tourist information desk - it's well signposted, between arrivals gate 1 and the big red and white checked meeting point box. If you find the KLM shop with it's big jet engine and landing gear displays you're in the right area - just look around a bit and you should see it.
Pop into the tourist information shop and ask the staff for a Keukenhof Combi Ticket. This will grant you entry to the park (and let you skip the queues to buy tickets) and includes free return bus fair from Schiphol to Keukenhof. In 2013 this ticket cost us €22 each, but prices may vary by year. You can pay with cash, Dutch bank "chip" cards and most major credit cards.
Once you have your Combi Ticket, come out of the shop, turn 90 degrees to your left and keep walking past the KLM shop, towards the exit doors near arrivals 3. Outside you should see bus number 858 waiting (usually decorated with pictures of Tulips) - they depart around every 5-10 minutes and the journey takes around 30 minutes. Make sure you get your ticket stamped by the driver, if you don't you won't qualify for the return journey.
Once you're there, proceed past the ticket purchasing queues and get your ticket scanned by the park entry wardens and be prepared for a day of beautiful tulips in one of the worlds most beautiful parks. Coming back, is as simple as jumping back on the 858 to Schiphol then getting a train back to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Easy peasy!
I hope this guide has been useful for you and you have a great time at Keukenhof!
So tonight was a big night for us. My wonderful wife and I had our first "date night" in almost a year. This last year we've either been busy moving house, getting down to work or living abroad without access to a trustworthy baby sitter, but tonight we had some family over to visit and they kindly offered to babysit while we went out for a meal.
We eat out all the time, with Jack in tow, but tonight was a special night and since we were completely childless we decided to push the boat out and give Jamie Olivers Fifteen restaurant a try, here in Amsterdam. By some fluke, Fifteen Amsterdam is just around the corner from where we live and easily walkable in 15-20 minutes at a leisurely pace (not that we did, one of our local bus services travels practically door to door and it's been bloody freezing of late!).
Anyway... on to the restaurant.
When we arrived we were greeted politely by a very friendly waiter who took our coats and asked if we would like to be seated or have a drink at the bar first. We opted for the latter and had a nice glass of rosé while we soaked in the ambiance of this neo-classical-urban venue. Chandeliers, exposed iron work and graffiti aren't things you usually see in the same place, but it seemed to work well here. Sadly one of the glasses that came out was a bit dirty and my wife insisted that I get it changed. The staff handled the change quickly and graciously with lots of apologies. Just a shame they didn't check over the glasses before they dished up.
Shortly after we were seated at our table and were handed a rather classless A3 paper menu. Some arty farty designer had decided that the best way to present the menu was with a grungy font and by spreading everything across a single huge page rather than splitting it up by course. Frustrating but we managed to get by.
We skipped the starters and instead opted to have a platter of olives and some breads. The breads were clearly made in-house and were soft and tasty and fresh as you like. Can't fault a thing. The olives were also wonderfully fresh and tasted awesome. There was a bit of a strange size difference though, the olive platter was a combination of great big-honging olives and teeny-tiny baby olives that weren't much bigger than a raisin.
Just as we were coming to the end of our appetisers the waiter came and delivered the main course. No chance to breathe and the waiter didn't even remove the old plates, just shuffled everything around and went on his merry way. That said... the main course was amazing. I had the rib-eye steak with mushrooms and a herb and truffle butter and Steph had an Irish Rump Steak with Salsa. As is to be expected with a restaurant inspired by Jamie Olivers cooking, both were liberally covered with olive oil and dished up on a bed of Rocket. We also had a side of green veggies and "funky" roast potatoes. I couldn't fault a thing about my meal but Steph was a bit disappointed that the salsa was cold and felt it reduced the overall temperature of her meal. It couldn't have been that bad though because she still ate it all :-)
Not long after we finished the mains, a waiter came and swooped in and took our plates away and asked if we would like to see the dessert menu. We obliged and sat back and relaxed while we waited for the yummies to be arrived. We waited, and waited and waited but nothing arrived. Eventually I grabbed the attention of the head waiter and after about ten minutes more the dessert menu finally arrived.
I went for the Vanilla Pannacotta with Caramel Syrup and crushed Hazelnuts and Steph had the Chocolate Brownie with Black Cherries and Vanilla Ice-cream. Both were made to perfection and tasted absolutely amazing. We also had a coffee to round off the night which was lovely, but we had another dirty glass incident which we just shrugged off and ignored.
Overall our experience at Fifteen Amsterdam was a good one. The food was nothing short of excellent and the staff were incredibly friendly. The only downside was that the waiters were very "passive" in their service levels, only coming to our table if we tried really hard to grab their attention. Now, we're fully aware that Fifteen is effectively a training restaurant for young would-be waiters and chefs but they seemed to be left to their own devices. We didn't see any sign of a senior staff member overseeing the training of the front-of-house staff, either that or we have made a mistake by judging the staff against UK restaurant standards which may be considerably different to those in The Netherlands.
(side note... to be honest, I'm not even sure which I prefer - I quite like that the waiters left us alone and didn't pester us every five minutes to see "if everything is ok", like they often do in the UK). At no point was the service bad they just weren't as attentive as we're used to.
If you go to Fifteen with a relaxed approach and don't expect too much from the front-of-house, then you'll have a great time. Just be prepared to put in a bit of effort if you want attention. The food really was excellent though and well worth waiting for. We'll definitely be returning again in the future!
... and I'll be waking up for my first full day in Amsterdam. Well... my hotel is in Amstelveen, but it's only a short hop away from the 'Dam on the Metro.
It's going to be a really interesting few weeks as we try to find somewhere to live, adjust to the move from nowhere-ville to a vibrant city, get used to being back in a BigCorp and getting used to my new job and colleagues. Certainly, just getting out of our house was a stressful experience. Trying to pack up your life and reduce it to a series of boxes is never fun, especially with a toddler on the go and a moving out date looming ever closer, but we managed it and I'm sure we'll cope.
I'm going to miss the gang at Stinkyink too. I've only been here for just under two years, but in that time, we've done some great things, including moving from an off-the-shelf e-commerce package, to a bespoke hand crafted beauty of a rails app. There have been ups and downs, and the daily drive to work has been getting a bit tiresome of late, but I don't regret a minute of it. I've learnt some cool new things, refined my design skills considerably and had the chance to work with some brilliant people.
Oh... and there was this video, which I produced on a whim for one of my colleagues under the "Creepy Coworker" brand
If you need ink cartridges I honestly can't recommend them enough. From first hand experience, I can tell you that the guys at Stinkyink go out of their way to make their customers satisfied. You might end up spending a couple of pennies more than you would with competing companies, but I can say for certain, you'll have an awesome experience along the way and be much happier at the end of it.
After reading through my recovered blog posts from our time travelling, it occurs to me that apart from the videos I posted, we didn't actually post much about our time in Hong Kong, Thailand or Oz. There's a reason for that. Shortly after we arrived in Phi Phi, we discovered Steph was pregnant! It came to a massive shock to us as we had been trying for over 18 months with no luck at all. Working the dates out, we think that Jack was conceived in Xi'an, China. It just goes to show that if you want to conceive and it's just not working for you, sometimes the best thing to do is to get away from life, de-stress and let nature take it's course.
Unfortunately for us, Nature was a cruel mistress and Steph was extremely ill with a severe form of morning sickness known as Hyperemisis which basically takes the fun of morning sickness and makes it a 24/7 arrangement, usually leading to severe dehydration amongst other things. This led to Steph being hospitalised a number of times by time we got to Australia.
Sadly, due to Steph's sickness, most of our time in Australia was spent in our hostel or a hospital in Sydney. Sights wise, we didn't see a lot (unless you count the inside of hospitals). I did manage to drag Steph along to the Darling Harbour IMAX to see Avatar though! I'm sure we'll make it back to Australia at some point, so we can actually go and enjoy all the country has to offer. I have a feeling, next time we'll have Jack walking along side us, rather than inside Steph causing his own unique brand of biological mayhem.
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Back in 2009 the Steph and I took a break from life to go travelling and experience life outside of the UK. For that journey we decided to setup a joint blog which we hosted over at warburton.me. By time we returned, that blog contained about 20 posts, mostly covering our travels in China and Thailand. Sadly, I forgot to move that blog when I migrated servers last year. I thought they were gone forever, but then I remembered about archive.org which keeps copies of old websites. I didn't think my site would have had enough traffic to warrant the backup, but I thought I'd checked it out and sure enough - they had captured the site and enough posts to allow me to recover everything!
Once I'd got the text content back from The Web Archive, I then had to sort out the images as previously they had all been hosted on my Flickr account which I deleted earlier this year after becoming fed-up of the service. Luckily, I had a local copy and was able to restore the pictures using WordPress' built in gallery functionality.
Here's a list of all the posts I have restored from the archive - check em out!
- Tickets Booked — July 17, 2009
- 2 Months,1 Day, 10 Hours, 56 Minutes — August 2, 2009
- Veni Vidi Visa! — September 2, 2009
- Tim Minchin Tickets! — September 2, 2009
- Got Cover? — September 4, 2009
- Off to China Land… — September 20, 2009
- Fellow travellers – a call for help! — September 21, 2009
- Pisa the action — September 21, 2009
- How has travelling changed? — September 23, 2009
- Beijing Baby! — October 4, 2009
- Beijing from Steph’s point of view!! — October 7, 2009
- Exploring Beijing — October 10, 2009
- Xi’an, Chengdu and beyond — October 14, 2009
- Videos from China — October 23, 2009
- Under the Sea – In Phi Phi! October 24, 2009
- Tuk Off! — October 31, 2009
- Phish Phood in Phuket
The only thing I haven't restored is the comments. There weren't very many, and to be honest, they weren't worth the effort.
Be sure to check out the posts from China and Thailand - it's crazy to think Steph was pregnant with our Jack by that point!
So... continuing the deluge of posts about my upcoming move to Amsterdam, I've been doing some research about internet speeds in the Netherlands and it seems that they're way ahead of what we have in the UK. According to this broadband speed test My download speed here in the UK is currently about 6Mb down and 1Mb up. From what I can establish, speeds in excess of 20Mb are very common in the Netherlands and come at reasonable prices too! I'm hoping that being in Amsterdam we might even be able to get fiberoptic broadband packaged with phone and TV through whatever the local equivalent of Virgin is (for some reason, Virgin hate my home town and have never felt the need to roll out here).
Having come from the days of 28Kb dialup internet and having memories of of 128kb ISDN being considered fast enough to supply a whole office, I'm more than satisfied with my 6Mb (which often goes at much faster speeds during off-peak times), but the thought of being able to get realistic 20Mb+ connection speeds makes me really excited!
In just over a month, my family and I will be moving from our home in sleepy Worcestershire to the slightly less sleepy city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands! It's somewhat scary to know we'll be leaving behind our nearest and dearest, but it's not every day you get a chance to go and work abroad, so we're grabbing it with both hands and seeing where it takes us!
I was flown over by my new employer for a couple of days for my interview and when I wasn't being interviewed I spent many many hours walking aimlessly around the city and I love it - it's such a beautiful city, more canals than venice, gorgeous buildings and bikes everywhere. I was blown away by how few cars there are - for a thriving city it's actually quieter than the little town I currently live in!
We have so much to do before we leave though - we have to find someone to come and rent our house, get all of our stuff sorted, tidied and dispose of all the crap we've accumulated. Then we've got to get a new kitchen fitted and generally tidy the house and we've got to pack all our stuff and get it shipped to Amsterdam!
Once we're in Amsterdam, we get a couple of weeks free accommodation courtesy of my new employer but then we need to find somewhere to live. We've never rented a place before, so it's all new to us, and from what I can tell, renting in The Netherlands is a slightly complicated process with many pitfalls and strange little rules. For example, from what I can work out, rental properties are price controlled by the government, but what you can rent depends on your earnings (to stop the rich folk renting all the cheap places).
Then there's health insurance, finding my wife a new job, a nursery and education for our son, working out where to buy food, learning the language and then of course, there's starting a new job, in a new city with new colleagues!
We're very excited but feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment just because we have so much to do before we can get settled and start enjoying our new life in Amsterdam!