All posts in Opinion

  • Why bigger fools look on when it comes to Welsh

    At 16 I took my obligatory Welsh GCSE like all the others in my year group. Lessons were often disrupted, few teenagers like to be told they have to do something, and we often questioned the validity and originality of Welsh as a modern language.

    Helô – Hello
    Dw’n hoffi siocled a coffi – I like chocolate and coffee
    Dim parcio – No parking
    Ble mae’r toiled? – Where’s the toilet?

    It’s not difficult to see what many of us latched onto in our criticism as so many words seemed like a rehash of their English counterparts. You can see why we rolled our eyes when confronted with something that only supported our ill-informed idea that Welsh was a pointless language, not worthy of our time.

    Sadly this idea is no longer limited to moody teenagers trying to score a free lesson. In recent years, especially in the last year, I have noticed an increasing amount of negativity around the adaptation of certain ‘English’ words into Welsh and not just from those living in Wales. When reputable media outlets and even the state broadcaster start calling the utility of Welsh into question, then we really have a problem.

    The belief that Welsh is alone in copying, borrowing or using words from other languages shows just how ignorant society has become of the very words we all speak.

    Let’s take English as an example. It should come as no surprise to anyone that English didn’t just fall from the sky. Most of us can recognise its French and German roots and anyone who has read any Chaucer and Shakespeare will have seen how English has evolved over the centuries. But English isn’t just the child of our Saxon settlements and the Norman invasion. Thanks to its maritime history, vast empire, and modern day ubiquity, English contains words from almost every corner of the world.

    If you are au fait with your au pair having an aperitif and canapé in a local cafe before picking up your infant at the local crèche, then you have to accept English has been copying French nouns almost verbatim for centuries.

    You (de) don’t (de) even (de) have (de) to (de) try (fr) so (de) hard (de) to (de) find (de) French (de – surprisingly) or other (de) languages (Latin) in English. Not all (de) of us can afford an au pair (fr), for example (Latin). In (de) this (de) paragraph (Greek) alone you (de) will (de) find (de) words (de) from (de) all (de) over (de) the (de) world (look this one up!). And that’s a fairly simplified etymology. Many of these words can be expanded to distinct groups of people and then further to what we are all essentially speaking in Europe, Proto-Indo-European (and if you’re really interested in that, go research Lithuanian!).

    The point, I hope, is clear. To make fun of Welsh for copying words from its dominant compatriot, especially words that have only entered common vocabulary in the last 100 years, would be to poke fun at your own language, whatever that may be. We all share vocabulary and we (mostly) all share a common root. Languages, just as humans, are mongrels, a mix of everything beautiful that has come before.

  • Understanding Cookie Law

    On 27th May 2012 the UK’s implementation of the EU’s “Cookie Law” will come in force. My own personal opinion aside, I wanted to take the time to actually read and digest the UK’s interpretation of this EU directive and summarise what it means for users and web developers.

    The reason why we have this law

    Studies suggest that the majority of internet users don’t know what cookies are and what information can be accessed by certain websites. This raises obvious privacy concerns.

    The target of this law is to try and prevent or dissuade website owners and content producers from collecting unnecessary information. The main target of this law appears to be third-party cookies, those that are often set by advertising networks to track a user’s global site preferences while browsing. This law makes it very difficult for them to ask for consent.

    What the law actually states

    The law is based on a privacy-based EC Directive from 2002, which was later amended in 2009 to require consent for the storage or access of information on a user’s device (a cookie). The UK implemented this change on the 25th May 2011, but delayed the compliance date by one year. It’s the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) job in the UK to inform us, the public, of changes to the law and what is required of us. 

    The law is pretty clear. Websites of individuals and businesses based in the EU must comply, regardless of the where the web host is located or where the website’s visitors are accessing the site from.

    Websites have to:

    • Tell users there are cookies on the site
    • Explain why you have cookies
    • Get the user’s consent to store a cookie on their device

    For example, this blog would be required to tell the user that a cookie will be saved on their device, which anonymously tracks user interactions on this site (Google Analytics). This site would then need to ask the user for consent to store these cookies.

    According to the ICO’s guidance, the user’s consent should be required before you set any cookies. In practice, however, the ICO recognises that most websites load cookies as soon as the site loads. In such cases, site owners should do whatever possible to inform the user as soon as possible that cookies are present and explain clearly what the cookies are for. As implementation becomes universal in the future, expect consent to become Opt-In only.

    Who needs to comply with the law?

    The law will apply to all website owners within the EU. This not only includes organisations and business, but individuals with blogs and private websites. Any site that sets a cookie, where the owner of the site is based within in the EU, regardless of where the site is hosted, must obtain consent.

    Like every law, there are exceptions (hooray!):

    • Cookies used to remember goods when they proceed to a checkout
    • Cookies that comply with stricter security principles, such as online banking
    • Cookies that help distribute workload across numerous computers (e.g. Amazon EC2)

    As the majority of websites use tools such as Google Analytics, pretty much everyone will need to think about implementing this.

    How to comply with the new law

    Fortunately for those in the know, satisfying the new law can be achieved by a small script. Unfortunately for those who don’t know anything about front-end web development may find it a bit moredifficult. Here’s two tools than can help:

    If you want to fully comply with the law however, you will need to prevent all cookies being stored until the user has agreed. As a cookie is actually required to remember a user’s choice, users that decline to accept cookies will be informed and asked the same question each time they access the site.

    The above tools will likely put you in good stead with the ICO for the foreseeable future, but when Opt-In is fully enforced, you should be preventing cookies altogether until the user agrees.

    Other Useful reading

  • The best thing the Tories have done for me

    Everyone loves to hate the Tories. At least that’s how’s it been within my lifetime. Since coming to power in May 2010 most of us have been following what seems to be a constant juggling match with our most prized possessions: education, health, financial services (and, for a moment there, even our forests…). But I can’t say I disagree with everything they’ve done.

    I’m a strong believer the UK needs a better “starting-up” scene. Notice I don’t use the term “startup”, which, in my opinion, has been taken over by the tech industry to mean fast-moving, insanely funded business ideas that appear to fizzle out as quickly as they begin. The UK needs people starting up companies not just in tech, but also in one of the many other industries out there. When I talk about a better starting-up scene, I mean a more approachable environment in which people are encouraged to start up their own companies. To realise their own ideas.

    One of the best things the tories have done came just one month after taking office during the June 2010 Emergency Budget.  George Osborne took the stage to announce several corporation and PAYE tax reforms, skip to 9minutes 50 seconds to hear it:

    The National Insurance Holiday scheme exempts all new companies outside of London from paying employer’s national insurance contributions for up to £5000 per employee (max. 10 employees). This isn’t something to be sneered at. Unless you are paying yourself and your employees over £43k a year, in which case you can probably afford the NIC contributions, this is going to save your company £5000 a year per employee. Even if you pay over £43k, you can claim the £5000 in contributions.

    Let’s take the average annual salary for a person in Rhondda Cynon Taf, a county in desperate need of innovation and new businesses (source).

    Average Annual Salary (Gross): ~ £25555

    Monthly Salary (Gross): ~ £2130

    Employee Income Tax: ~ £300

    Employee NIC: ~ £185

    Monthly Salary (Net): ~ £1650

    Employer NIC: ~ £215

    For a new Ltd company with two employees earning an average wage, that’s a saving of £430 a month in tax, £5160 a year (£5000 recoverable). Pretty helpful. This money can be spent on other costs a company has or even as savings to make a more stable business. It even makes taking on new part-time and full-time employees more attractive.

    I’m not paying myself anywhere near £43000, but the National Insurance Holiday scheme has meant that I can pay myself around £150 more a month because my company has it in the pot. All I can say is Thank You, George.

    One more thing…

    I should add that there is one more thing I would like to see more than anything else in the UK. It was also touched upon during the budget but hasn’t yet successfully made it nationwide: The New Enterprise Allowance Scheme.

    Germany has a similar scheme where unemployed individuals who are eligible for benefits (have to have worked and paid taxes for two years in a row), get Jobseekers Allowance (“dole”) for the first year of starting up their own company. I want this in the UK. It needs to be easy to access, guaranteed and available to all. It needs to be advertised too, not just some little backdoor thing politicians can use to claim they are “trying hard”.

  • A life without Steve Jobs

    There’s naturally quite a lot of sentimentality going around today. I usually shy away from public mourning, something I feel the likes of Twitter and Facebook have exacerbated, finding it often mawkish and lacking any sense of perspective. The crux of it is, today is unlikely to be any different for the vast majority of us and it’ll be much the same tomorrow.

    But what about yesterday? What if Steve Jobs hadn’t returned to Apple in late 1996 and Apple had gone bust like so many industry experts at the time predicted? For most people who own an iPhone today, their life probably wouldn’t be any different. I cannot say the same for my own.

    I got my first Mac in April 2000, thanks to my progressive parents. Yes, you had to be progressive, or barmy, to spend £1249 on a Mac at that time. I was the luckiest 13 year old around, owning a laptop was almost unheard of outside of the business world at that time (for those who are interested, it was the iBook G3 366MHz “Graphite SE” edition).

    From that day on I was hooked. There were probably times when I should have been out cycling round the block a few times, getting fresh air, but were actually spent on Yahoo Mac Chat Rooms discussing how many USB ports I had or whether my graphics chip could handle Nanosaur at full res.

    Over the years I’ve anticipated every one of Jobs’ captivating keynotes, often spending hours deliberating with fellow fans what would be released. Hours, not wasted, but savoured. And as the years went on, so did my experience and what I could do with my computer. At 14 I was making websites on my Mac for several small businesses, making money other 14 year olds could only dream of. Of course that money was spent on more RAM or a new monitor for my new PowerMac. At 17 I got my first job repairing Macs at Apple-Juice and at 22 I moved to Munich, Germany, to get a dream job at equinux, a Mac software company. At 24 I went on to start my own company, a Mac and iPhone app translation agency, Applingua.

    It’s true to say I didn’t know Steve Jobs. I was never even lucky enough to get to see him speak live at MacWorld or WWDC. It’s also true to say I didn’t know what he was like behind that illuminated camera and according to many accounts, I’m not sure I ever wanted to either. So far-reaching were his decisions both at Apple and the tech-world as a whole, that it doesn’t matter if you knew the man personally or not. Almost every piece of tech you use today from your phone to your TV has, at some point during the design process, been influenced by Steve’s Apple in some way.

    Choosing to be a geek, an Apple Geek no less, has brought me to where I am today. From fan-boy chat rooms at 12 years old to running Applingua, where I get to work with other Apple Geeks on a daily basis. Even as I write this, on my MacBook Air, I’m sitting at a desk opposite a good friend who I got to know working at that Mac software house, equinux.

    As the Mac software developers Panic put it, “it’s not an exaggeration to say that everything we have today – from our apps, to our employees, to our office, to our houses, even to FaceTime moments with our kids and favorite songs fading in on an a rainy walk home – is thanks to Apple.”

    This is my thank you, Steve. Thank you for changing the way the world approaches technology. Thank you for indirectly providing me with at least four separate jobs. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet some amazing people along the way.

    Thanks Steve.

  • My take on cleaning up the App Store

    A significant portion of my day is spent surfing the iOS and Mac App Store, scouting potential clients for Applingua and checking out what’s cool for my own iOS devices. Over the last few months I’ve found the App Stores, especially the iOS store, becoming ever more cluttered. Unless you are browsing the store on your iOS device, the whole experience is becoming increasingly cumbersome and, in my opinion, doing a disservice to a lot of great app developers out there.

    Some of these points are quite controversial so please feel free to discuss in the comments below! Here’s how I would try and clean up and raise the quality of the iOS App Store experience:

    1. Move iOS App Store and device management out of iTunes

    The original iPhone had been built on the success of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store to combine a phone with the highly capable, portable music device. It made sense that the original iPhone synced with iTunes to manage and transfer music in one easy place. When mobile phone “apps” were quite unfamiliar to the consumer market, it made sense to have the then-experimental iOS App Store in the place users were most used to.

    Well, times have changed. No longer is the iPhone sold on its music-player capabilities but rather the notion “there’s an app for that”. Apps have become the main focus and the hugely-successful, quality-driven App Store is one of the main differentiating factors over Apple’s competitors. I think it’s time to move the iOS store away from the iTunes Music Store into it’s own iPhone management app. I would propose a simple WebKit based app similar to the Mac App Store, which gives equal weighting to App management as it does Photos and Music. We currently seem to accept that both photos and Apps are secondary to music in the current setup, through several badly designed management tabs within iTunes.

    2. Separate Games from the rest of apps

    Apps that aren’t games feel second to Games on the iOS store. We all love to play a bit of Angry Birds or get frustrated at Doodle Jump – they are great games – but it’s becoming a bit too much like a high street game store. It’s difficult for users to discover new apps with games cluttering the view. Of the top 40 paid apps I could fit on my screen, 25 were games. That’s almost two thirds.

    UK App Store Top 40

    I’m not saying we should abolish games altogether – absolutely not. I just think that people are prepared to go into a Games category much more so than other categories. A metric would need to be worked out by which the top games could be displayed in the Top Apps lists. Perhaps it is as simple as a user preference to show games or not (or exclude any category you choose for that matter).

    3. Remove all Karma Sutra / 50 Sex Tips / Sex IQ tests
    Call me prude, but these apps are not what I had in mind when Steve Jobs famously said “We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone… Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.” I took that as meaning all this kind of stuff wouldn’t be on the App Store. It’s not that users shouldn’t be allowed to access this information, but selling these apps for profit almost makes the whole experience a little cheaper. One of these apps always seems to pop up when I run a search, as if they’ve been allowed to list every possible keyword combination. The App Store has so many rules and regulations you almost wonder how any these got in, but there you go. Someone at Apple obviously needs 1001 Sex Facts.

    4. Insist on Retina
    The next two points may be slightly more controversial than the others. It’s already difficult enough to get your App without hitch on the App Store, to start insisting on retina quality images may push some developers over the edge. For retina device users, there is nothing worse than a pixellated app icon or hazy, up-scaled text on a starting splash screen.

    I may also go a step further: give existing apps a grace period in which to update or kick them off. Of course this will unfortunately cause quite a few headaches for agencies and freelance iOS developers but you can always recharge. This would be Apple saying, update, or your app will no longer be for sale. Sure, it will piss people off, but app store policies already do that. Apple have reiterated over and over again: it’s our store, if you don’t like it, go elsewhere.

    5. Improve App Icon guidelines

    A good app icon may be one of the few marketing tools a developer has when uploading their app to the app store. If you are a developer who puts a bit of effort into your icon, you may not want Apple to enforce higher quality in all icons. But consider the following two sets of apps:

    The Good:

    Pretty app iconsThe Bad:

    Ugly App iCons

    As more an more people start dabbling with iOS development, I think we’ll see a rise in the number of bad, or rather effortless, icons leading eventually to an app store full of them. Apple should introduce guidelines sooner rather than later to tackle this. I’m not saying it needs to be a the point where you have to outsource your app icon to a professional designer, that would be quite discouraging, but subjectively more than 5 minutes effort should have been invested in the icon.

    And there you have it. My little rant about the current state of affairs on the iOS App Store. You may agree with me, or you may be glad I’m not the guy in charge. Either way, discuss below 🙂