In which Dan finds a project other than Trntxt.uk to blog about, and says ’emoji’ 11 times.
TL;DR: I made Imojify, a library that converts emoji in :colon: notation into their graphical equivalents. It’s on GitHub, NPM and Bower.
I had a working (but buggy) prototype by 1am.
The idea was a library that could convert colon notation emoji into their PNG image equivalent. For the uninitiated, colon notation is often used in chat services such as Gitter and Slack. It consists of a word or phrase wrapped inside a colon, such as :angry: or :stuck_out_tongue:. The big benefit of this sort of emoji is accessibility – if the picture isn’t rendered for whatever reason (e.g. for a blind person using a screen reader), it is still possible to understand what the author meant. Continue reading
F.lux is an application that adapts the colour profile of your computer to the rising and setting of the sun.
Your computer screens produce white light, the same colour (albeit different intensity) as the sun. This is fine during the day – the colours look natural, but as the sun sets, should we really still be looking at the sun? This is essentially what we’re doing when we use our laptops, phones and tablets at night.
There’s a lot of scientific evidence that shows the effect of blue light on the body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep). I’m not going to go into detail about this, just know that blue light is not good for you if you’re trying to sleep.
This is where f.lux comes in. As the sun sets, the application changes the colour of your screen to match the colour produced by light bulbs instead of the sun. When the sun rises, the colours go back to normal. On first use, this makes the screen look orange and weird, but it’s not long before you get used to it and wonder how you ever lived without it. Seriously. Once you’ve used it for a few days, try disabling it. You’ll feel your eyes strain to adjust to the new colour.
Without f.lux, You don’t tend to notice that the screen is a completely different colour to its surroundings until you see it in a photo.
On the left is my laptop with f.lux disabled. The white of the screen is a completely different colour to the surroundings. Then with f.lux (right), the laptop’s colour is a more natural fit. It is more comfortable to look at for long periods.
Unfortunately f.lux is only supported on computers. On mobiles it’s a different story. The team at f.lux have made an app for iOS devices, but it only works on jailbroken ones. Apple don’t allow it on the app store because it requires access to settings which aren’t allowed to be accessed by apps. The thing is users can’t access these settings either. One of my friends has a jailbroken iPhone with f.lux installed and it looks beautiful at night. I want it, but I also don’t want to compromise the security and reliability of my iPhone.
I understand where Apple are coming from – I also don’t think f.lux should be in the app store – but instead it should be installed and enabled by default on all devices. It should be there as a setting right next to the brightness slider for everyone so that people who use their smartphones at night can get a better night’s sleep. The research supports it, f.lux users support it, it just makes sense. If a smartphone was released that natively automatically adapted its colour temperature as the sun set, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy it.
Download f.lux here (Windows, Mac, Linux):
Update: Apple have added a F.lux-like feature ‘Nightshift’ in their most recent iOS9.3 update
Last week I went to London with a few of my flatmates from first year. It was Halloween and we wanted to do something a little different. The first thing we did was visit the ‘yellowbluepink‘ installation at the Wellcome Collection, right next to Euston station.
It was a fairly large room filled with dense fog, lit in 3 colours. When we entered, the fog was thick but you could see the floor, ceiling and people from around 5m away.
I’ve made a couple of updates to trntxt since July.
One of the things I noticed during my user tests was that people typed ‘bristol’ when they wanted information about Bristol Temple Meads, Bristol’s main station. Unfortunately ‘bristol’ is a closer match to the smaller Bristol Parkway station because it comes above Temple Meads alphabetically. Before August, there wasn’t a way to get the user to correct their search, but trntxt now has search suggestions!
The feature was implemented while being moderately inebriated by a single bottle of Henry Weston’s at the Meanbee hack night in Bath.
Now if you go to http://trntxt.uk/bathspa/bristol it will ask you if you meant Bristol Temple Meads instead of Bristol Parkway.
Just don’t ask for ‘London’.
The other new thing is journey times. Trntxt now shows you how long each journey takes, so you can identify the faster trains more easily. The number is calculated with preference to the estimated timings, so if a train is delayed, the time will adjust accordingly.
Next logical step – sort by arrival time instead 😉
I’m also looking to make trntxt’s suggestions cleverer. I’ve started collecting data about the devices that use the site and the inputs people give. I’m hoping to expand that to also collect and store data from the National Rail Enquiries API. Don’t worry, the information collected is not personally identifiable (unless your user agent string is “HI MY NAME IS DAN”).
Hopefully, after some more practice with MongoDB I’ll be able to draw conclusions predicting the stations people mean based on their input. For example if someone types /bristol/london, they probably mean London Paddington, whereas /southampton/london should take the user to London Waterloo instead.
“The problem with hardware is that there is no version control” – Marcus Noble
This time round, JSOxford had a bunch of Espruino Pico boards and plenty of hardware to hack around with, including continuous servos and wheels.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on trntxt, and in that time lots of things have changed. Most of those things haven’t changed the site’s appearance at all, but I can assure you that I’ve been very busy with it over the past few weeks.
Service messages and bus times
Trntxt now shows you service messages from National Rail and timings for any rail replacement bus services. Days and days of work condensed into a single sentence…
In order to make those changes simpler to implement, I had to make quite a few changes in the background. In doing so I learned more about the Jade templating engine and created a Mocha test framework with the help of Thom Wright at one of the Hack Nights run by CodeHub Bristol.
Better station search
When typing a station name in the address bar, a more complex search takes place. Beforehand in order to match a station, the input had to match a portion of the station name exactly. Take for example, the station ‘Heathrow Airport Terminals 1, 2 and 3’. Originally, if you searched for ‘terminal1’, it wouldn’t produce a match. Trntxt removes all spaces and punctuation from the station name, but even then ‘terminal1’ doesn’t appear exactly in the station name – you’d need to have ‘terminals1’ which isn’t immediately obvious. Now it checks the station name to see if all the characters are there in the right order. You can type ‘lonwat’ for London Waterloo and it will return the match.
While writing the improvements to the search function, I made sure that the changes didn’t break anything else by running the tests. The test framework essentially contains a list of inputs along with their expected outputs. When I wanted to write a new feature or fix a bug, I’d put in some failing cases with the result it should return, then I carry on coding until the tests pass.
By running the tests automatically each time I save the code, I can be confident that the new code doesn’t negatively impact any of the past test cases because they are all checked every time.
I decided that while still being minimal, I could improve the appearance of trntxt’s output. The 4 dashes I originally had to separate items have been replaced by a line; I’ve reduced the wordiness of each item description and the CSS fits inside a tweet (just because)!
Preventing unnecessary app icon downloads
While investigating the network traffic to trntxt from different devices, I noticed that Android devices wanted to download the high resolution app icons for Apple devices, which is a bit of a waste when that icon is never shown. I now run a check to see what device is accessing the site, and only send links to appropriate icons for that device. It’s fairly unnecessary and especially not worth the effort to do it, but I did it anyway. Turns out it’s easy enough to modify the content of Jade documents based on various parameters, plus I was annoyed that all the icon tags almost doubled the size of the response (see below). I probably shaved nanoseconds off the page load time.
More to come
I’m not finished yet! There’s always something else I want to add to trntxt. Search suggestions coming soon!
I’ve put a lot of work into making the trntxt experience as efficient as possible. Even though it was designed for old phones with a slow connection, it works well on modern smartphones, and in my opinion, beats any train times app out there. Of course I think it’s better (I did make it after all), but I’m going to try and explain why it’s better.
I once learned that when someone looks for information, it is best to have that information displayed after as few gestures as possible. My experiment compares the use of the National Rail Enquiries (NRE) app with trntxt, on both initial setup and subsequent use. I’m going to dig out my old iPod Touch for this because my phone doesn’t do screenshots and nobody else has Windows Phone 7. At the start of the experiment, we are going to assume that you know the name of the app but it isn’t installed, and you know the URL of trntxt but have never visited it before.
In this post I’m going to talk about what I’ve done (and what I’ve not done) with trntxt in order to get the fastest page load times possible. I’ve split this up into two sections. The first part might be interesting to most of you, whereas the second part goes into technical detail that will look like complete gobbledygook if you haven’t programmed using Node before.
You have been warned.
TL;DR: I made trntxt.uk, a data-friendly train times website.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve meed putting a little bit of my free time into developing a train times website.
The idea came to me after a JSOxford talk by Tom Lane about open rail data. It turns out that the data you see on train station departure boards is all accessible, so long as you register for a free API key.
I decided that the reason why the train times app on my phone wasn’t working was because the data was taking too long to arrive over a 2G connection, so I thought I would try and speed things up a bit. I’d make a website without using anything unnecessary, and in doing so I’d have a website that works well on whatever device you’re using.
I call it “Train Text”. It works like this. Let’s say you’re at London Paddington and you want to find out when the next train to Bath Spa is.
You would point your phone’s browser at trntxt.uk/paddington/bathspa. You don’t need to use the full name of the station – just use part of the name and trntxt will probably find it. Just ignore spaces or any other punctuation. If you know the 3-letter station codes, you can use those too and save some typing time in the process (trntxt.uk/pad/bth). trntxt makes these station codes visible to help you remember them.
The website was designed so that even my old Nokia 6303 can access it correctly on a slow 2G connection.
I’ve stripped out everything unnecessary so that you can get the fastest responses possible (more on that in another post). That’s why it doesn’t look very good 😛
There are, however, some limitations. One of them being it can only handle direct routes. If you’re traveling from Swindon to Oxford, you need to change at Didcot. You’ll need to make a request for Swindon to Didcot, then another from Didcot to Oxford.
It doesn’t do arrival times yet, but I’ll get them in soon!
What’s more annoying is that after I made the site, I realised that it seems to work everywhere apart from Bath Spa station.