A Slight Redesign

We’ve been making a few changes to our site over the last couple of weeks. We liked it a lot as it was, but we wanted to improve in three areas:

A Clear Offering

We wanted to make it really clear what we do, straight off the bat. We’re a software development house, and we specialise in Ruby on Rails projects, done in an agile way. What’s more, we’ve invested a lot of time in the past year or so getting really good at automated testing. We think this really marks us out from other companies in our space, so we wanted to say it loud and proud.

A Human Face

We’re proud of our people and they are the most important part of what we do. Sure, we do Rails – but that’s only because we happen to think it’s the best tool for the job. What we’re really selling is our expertise and experience – and this all comes from our great team. So, we thought it was only fair to take a couple of snaps of them and our swanky offices for your perusal.

A Portfolio

Probably the biggest omission from our site was a portfolio page detailing the projects we’ve been working on recently, and the work we did. We’re not a quick-and-dirty type of place – we take on projects for the long term and work with our clients to achieve business goals. We hope our portfolio reflects this and gives a better idea of the work we do.

As with all projects, we wanted to be sure that our changes represented a real return on investment, so we kept ourselves to just a few hours to do these changes. It’s been great to see a few new leads come through as a consequence of just a small amount of work.

We hope you like the improvements – there are plenty more to come. Let us know what you think!

BarCamp Manchester 2

The 7th and 8th of November saw BarCamp Manchester 2 descend on the Contact Theatre. Setfire were proud sponsors of the weekend, and Sam and I popped along to get involved.

The introduction, which culminated in beatboxing with freestyle rapping and an impromptu name-tag swapping session, set the scene nicely for the rest of the weekend.
Continue reading →

Using Analytics to shape your browser support policy.

Or, when can I dump that bag of sh** ie6?
killie
I’m a web designer, not an SEO. So it took me a while to catch on to how Analytics might be helpful in my own work.

But knowing and understanding the constraints you face is an important part of being a designer, right? And analytics gives us a useful window onto some of them.

This is where analytics can help. Specifically, a relatively new feature of Analytics called ‘Advanced Segmentation’. A vexing question facing many web designers is “when can I dump that bag of sh** ie6?”. Well, using advanced segmentation, you can work that out fairly easily. Sadly, the answer for many of us is likely to be more nuanced that just dump it or lump it.

I’m assuming here you have some basic understanding of analytics. Don’t worry, that’s all I have too. If you want to learn exactly how to make an advanced segment, you should checkout Google’s help articles on the topic.

And now, the graphs

All these stats were taken from our main ecommerce site cartridgesave. It’s a pretty busy site, so it gives us some useful data to work with.

For my purposes, I created a segment that tracks any browser with the name Internet Explorer and a version number that starts with ‘6.’ This should give us the ability to track that browser version through any Analytics report. Once you’ve created a few of these segments for ie7-8, Firefox 3 and so on, you can then generate a report like this:

Internet explorer usage on cartridgesave.co.uk

Internet explorer usage on cartridgesave.co.uk


IE6 clearly lags in this instance; what was news to me is that IE8 is already beginning to overtake ie7. An encouraging sign, given how much better IE8 is from a development point of view, and how much faster ie8 adoption has been compared to the transition between ie6-7.

Here is the same again, but swapping Firefox 3 for IE8.

The same graph as before, but showing Firefox3 usage instead of IE8

The same graph as before, but showing Firefox3 usage instead of IE8

This information won’t necessarily solve the browser support debate, but it will hopefully lead to a more intelligent decision than before.

What’s the point of HTML5?

HTML5

The various reports and discussions around HTML5 in the past year have been a source of much confusion. In order to do my bit to help clear that up, I thought I’d offer a broad overview of what it is, and what it represents for the web.

Should I care and why?

Yes. But why? Well, there are a few ways to answer that, which I’ve tried to elaborate for you below.

Process

One of the biggest differences between HTML5 and previous markup specifications, indeed between HTML5 and any other web standard, is the process that is being used to put it together. Generally web specifications are created by the W3C using working groups who draft specifications in a closed process that has left some people dissatisfied.

In a break with this convention, HTML5 has been developed externally to the W3C by a group called the WHATWG. This group developed as a response to dissatisfaction with the W3C’s direction with XHTML and “…apparent disregard for the needs of real world authors.”

Although still driven in the main by browser vendors, WHATWG does use a much more open process, developing the spec for HTML5 through a mailing list that anyone can participate in. This has lead to a process that is faster and better supported by the web development community as a whole. So much so that HTML5 has now been formally adopted by the W3C to the detriment of XHTML2, their chosen successor for existing markup standards.

The other key aspect of the process is that HTML5 is being implemented incrementally by browser vendors. So although the projected completion date for the specification is 2022, there are aspects of HTML5 available right now and more will become available as time goes on.

Applications

The explicit focus of HTML5 is on applications. HTML’s origins as a document markup language are in stark contrast to the rapid developments in functionality and complexity present in many modern day web applications. HTML5 represents an attempt to go beyond documents and create a markup specification for structuring applications as opposed to documents.

We can see this in many of the new elements being created within HTML5, such as section, nav, aside. These are based on common conventions that are currently implemented by using class and id attributes on HTML elements like div, ol, code which all pertain to elements of a written document. So where we might currently have

<div class="article">
  <div class="section">
    <h2>This is a section of a larger document</h2>
    <p>Here is some text in this particular section</p>
  </div>
</div>

in html5, we would structure it something like the following;

<article>
  <section>
    <h2>This is a section of a larger document</h2>
    <p>Here is some text in this particular section</p>
  </section>
</article>

Perhaps more significant are the number of new APIs being specified, which will allow greater access to browser functions for web developers, as well as extending browser functionality to allow web applications to take on more of the advantages of desktop apps.

Best known is canvas, a 2d drawing api, which is already implemented in recent versions of Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera. However, just as significant are APIs that will allow offline web apps, drag and drop, video and audio controls, cross document messaging and text editing. Again, like the new elements, these are things that currently exist in web apps, but mainly through cumbersome and insecure javascript implementations that often are highly non-standard.*

Openness

HTML5 is open in two ways; firstly its open in terms of how it’s details are discussed and written. However it’s open in much broader sense; no one person owns HTML5, or indeed CSS3, or Javascript. This is important as we consider how the web is progressing today. Basically, if you wish to make a complex web application, you have a few choices; web standards technologies, Silverlight, Flash, Java Applets. Ok, that last one was a joke, but you get the picture. But really these choices are just two; open web standards that are not the property of a single company, or proprietary technology which is owned by one company. I realise there are good arguments on either side of that particular debate, which I don’t have time to elaborate here, but my personal choice is for standards, mainly as I feel more confident that more of my target audience will be able to access them.

So, there are a few reasons why you should pay attention to HTML5. To be honest, before I took the time to investigate it for myself, I wasn’t convinced, but I’m glad I did. HTML5 is not perfect, but that’s the point. It’s the first web standard that admits of its own imperfection, makes room for change and addresses the realities of modern web development, which overall seems like a good thing to me.

Running Cucumber Tasks Through Selenium on Internet Explorer

We all need to test our code on Internet Explorer and when set up correctly, this can be the best way.

I’m not going to go over installing Ruby, MySQL (you need version 5.0), Apache etc as there are a million and one tutorials out there. I will mention however that you can save yourself some time by simply connecting to your development server (remember, you will need to open up your SQL server for remote access). I’m also not going to go over setting up selenium profiles as I’m assuming you’ve already got your tests running under a *nix environment.

Now once you’ve got your applications installed and checked out a copy of your code you need to make sure you have the right gems – exactly the same set as you needed on your development server, although I would also recommend win32console as it will give you the text colouring on your test output (and also randomly remove all of the letter As. No, really!).

Now comes the fun part. There are a series of hacks you need to do to Ruby and its gems to get them working under Windows:

  • Install MySQL 5.0 if you haven’t already and copy libmySQL.dll from the MySQL bin folder to the Ruby bin folder, overwriting the default version.
  • Change any reference to IP ‘0.0.0.0’ to ‘127.0.0.1’ in the webrat gem. This is needed because Windows will not view ‘0.0.0.0’ as localhost.
  • Add ‘start’ before the ‘mongrel_rails’ command in the ‘start_command’ function in ‘\selenium\application_servers\rails.rb’. This will cause the mongrel server to be run in a new console window which is needed because the mongrel *nix detach flag does not work in a Windows console.
  • Add ‘-interactive -forcedBrowserMode iexplore’ to the start command in ‘\lib\selenium\remote_control\remote_control.rb’.
  • Increase your timeouts
    • Add ‘config.selenium_browser_startup_timeout = 50’ to your selenium profile.
    • Timeouts also defined in ‘\selenium\selenium_rc_server.rb
  • Make sure you have your browser set correctly in your selenium profile with the correct path. Something along the lines of:
    • config.selenium_browser_key = ‘*iexplore C:\Program files\Internet Explorer\ie.exe’

Then run your tests and you should find your tests running quite happily.

A sneak peak at our Task Boards

Kanban Board

Over the last couple of years, we’ve got heavily into agile methodologies – in particular, Scrum and Kanban. Here are three of our task boards, from three of our current main projects.

This first board has evolved from a Kanban board introduced by Andy P. It features the Icebox, Todo, On Hold, In Progress (limited to 2 stories at a time) and a Review column. Done tickets are stuck to a nearby wall – with competitions as to who can get them the highest with a running jump!

Messy Scrum Board

This rather messy Scrum board is a work in progress, and utilises the three windows between one of our offices and the games room. It features a full product backlog, a sprint backlog, In Progress and Done (‘Done Done’!). Team members like to place the postits below individual members/pair names so we’ve added this on.

Small Kanban Task Board

Our last board is a modest but effective Kanban approach for a small team. One thing that’s interesting with this project is that initially the team didn’t have a daily standup/scrum – but after using the board for a couple of weeks, they felt one would help them keep each other updated so started one.

We’ve really felt the benefit of agile working, and the ‘informative office environment’ is a big part of it. I personally have a lot of love for tools like Pivotal Tracker, having previously used it on a big project – but there’s definitely something to be said for the tangible Post-It note plus Sharpie formula.

Thanks to everyone who came to NWRUG!

NWRUG Logo

Just a quick one to say thanks to everyone who came to NWRUG last night! A good time was had by all, and thanks to @will_j for organising, and to @leehambley for being my fellow speaker. It was great to see you all and share a beer or two.

See you at the September event; it promises to be a good one!

Update: Lee’s presentation is available at slideshare. As my presentation was more of a live coding demo (I’m braver than him!), we’ll keep mine as a “you had to be there” thing!

We’re talking at North West Ruby User Group, 20th August

logo-big

Setfire will be sponsoring and providing the talks for the North West Ruby User Group (NWRUG) meet on the 20th of August, 2009. The theme of the evening is Capistrano, a technology we use internally to deploy production sites. We also actively support its development. We’ll start with a newbie guide to getting an existing site deploying with cap, and move on to some more advanced recipes.

We’ll then move on to the much more important business of geeky chat and pizza, on us of course, and then, if experience is anything to go by, we’ll be off to a bar!

Interested? Read more and sign up. See you on the 20th.

Are you Setfire Media’s first Technical Project Manager?

Today, we announced a new role at Setfire – our first dedicated Technical Project Manager. This is an exciting move for us and is part of our continuing growth; we’re looking for somebody who can keep the machine running smoothly and bring a fresh perspective to our process and techniques.

Do you (or somebody you know) love software development, working with both technical people and clients, and have a keen eye for process? Do you yearn for a laid back environment, free of corporate hassle, where you can get things done as part of a winning team? Then check out the Technical Project Manager job and apply!

Send your covering letter and CV to recruitment@setfiremedia.com today.

Happy First Birthday Setfire!

1st_birthday

Last Thursday we celebrated a year since the launch of Setfire Media. It’s been a great year for Setfire, with some major product launches, new staff and some important projects making big strides forward. We’ve expanded to take over both floors of our office and have the strongest team we’ve ever seen!

We celebrated with a team lunch, quick speech and, of course, a round of ‘Outside Table Football’ (or OTF for short!)

Thanks to our team and our clients for making this a cracking year.