A large rabbit run (by )

Today, I made a run for Jean's rabbit, Blacky. He has a hutch, but rabbit hutches are far too small for rabbits to spend all day in; we'd been letting him run around the house (which requires constant watching, so can only happen for an hour or so), or letting him enjoy the slightly larger possibilities of a large cage with the bottom removed pegged down on the lawn, but we knew it wasn't nearly enough for him; he was always wanting to get out, and when he's in the house, he enthusiastically runs the entire length of downstairs.

So, I built him a run, with some help from Jean (he's her rabbit, after all, but there's only so much use a four-year-old is in this kind of project). Two metres and ten centimetres long, a metre and five centimetres wide, and fifty centimetres high; made out of a wooden frame with rabbit mesh, and a liftable solid door at one end, which also provides some fixed shade.

I relish the chance to do something with my hands, as I usually don't get time to, and end up spending all of my time at a computer. And Blacky certainly seemed happy; he was running around it at high speed, occasionally bounding into the air and spinning round, which is what rabbits do when they're happy. Note the motion blur:

Blacky enjoying his new run

That's not all, though; we've also bought him a lead, so we'll be able to safely take him for walks along the drive.

Jobs From Home (by )

Obviously due to health problems and the little Jeany I tend to not be able to go out to work as such, even before she was thought of properly and the back problems had flared up so badly I realised that working as a steward at the Student Union was a no go. I headed down to the job center in hunt of a job I could do; I was thinking of envelope stuffing which I was sure would be a job you could do from home.

I explained the issues with needing to do physiotherapy and not being able to sit down or stand up too long and they just told me to go on benefits, which I didn't want to do. And so I began making looking at things I could do at home myself - there was little information then and I went back to college instead.

Then when I got here I was on crutches, so again I went to the job centre when Alaric assured me I would get an interview and they would sort me something out - all I got was rudeness and informed I had to look through all the job options myself and work out what I should apply for - which I did. There was basically nothing. And so I turned to learning web-design stuff and writing my blogs which was a nice sideline to Al's company regardless of the subsequent issues we had with floods and clients not paying.

I feel like I have been stumbling in the dark with a lot of this trying to find jobs I could do from home. Then I found out my friend has as site that covers all the sorts of questions I was asking. Obviously a lot of things have changed in even the last five years but I wish there had been something like this so easily accessible then and even if you are considering setting up your own business with or without the home aspect I think it's a good read.

The site is called Jobs From Home for those who are interested.

User Interfaces for Event Streams (by )

Reading Phil Gyford's post about the reasoning behind his Todays Guardian app reminded me of an old interest of mine - the design of user interfaces that show people streams of events.

I hate the fact that I have several systems that have reason to throw notifications at me:

  1. Incoming email (with multiple accounts)
  2. Twitter (with multiple accounts)
  3. RSS feeds I follow
  4. Voicemails/SMSes
  5. Notification of server failures and other such technical problems
  6. Incomng phonecalls, Skype calls, etc
  7. IMs and DMs in IRC, and people mentioning my name in IRC channels
  8. People talking in channels I'm following in IRC
  9. Scheduled alarms (time to stop working and eat!)
  10. Batch processes have finished (I often start a long compilation/test sequence going then browse the Web for five minutes while it runs - then get distracted and come back twenty minutes later)

Many of these event sources are capable of producing events of different levels of urgency, too. It's really quite complex. Some things shout in my face (incoming skype messages cause a huge window to pop up over what I'm doing, for example) while some need to be manually checked (such as email; I get too much spam for the "you've got mail!" noise to mean much to me), and this has little correlation with the relative importance of them.

Obviously, the first thing to do is to have some standard mechanism in the user interface system for notifying me of events. Growl is a start, but it's focussed on immediate notifications, rather than handling a large backlog of events. What I want is something like my email inbox, that has a searchable, scrollable, history, and notifies me when new events come up. But I also want richer metadata than Growl has; I want all IMs, emails, and whatnot from the same person to be tied to that 'source' of events, so I can filter them into groups. I want to have Personal, Work, and Systems events, and to have Personal deprioritised during working and Work deprioritised during personal time. And so on.

The BlackBerry OS goes someway towards this with its integrated Messages system. Any app can register to put messages into the message stream, so when I get emails, BlackBerry IMs, notifications of new versions of software being available, etc. they all appear in the same time-stream and I get a 'new message' notification. I want something similar on my desktop, but with much more advanced filtering and display capabilities. My design for 'user agent' entities in ARGON involves using a standard "send an object to an entity protocol" for all email/IM/notification activities - the same protocol that is used to send print jobs to a printer, files to a backup system or removal storage device, orders to an automated process, and so on; it's roughly the equivalent of "drag and drop" in a desktop GUI. Incoming objects from 'elsewhere' are then combined inside the UA with internal events such as calendar alarms and situations the user agent might poll for, such as things appearing in RSS feeds, into a centralised event stream, by the simple process of translating all internal events into incoming objects like any other; but actually designing a user interface for displaying that is something I look forward to doing...

Phil's analysis of the newspapers interests me, because it's a very similar challenge. You have a stream of events, and the user may want to skim over them to see what's relevant then zoom into particular ones. How do you present that, and how do you help the user deal with an inundation of events, by applying heuristics to guess the priority of them and suitably de-emphasising or hiding irrelevant events, or making important events intrude on their concentration with an alarm? Priority is mode-dependent, too; if you're in an idle moment, then activity in your interest/fun RSS feeds should push out work stuff entirely - apart from important interruptions. And some events will demand my attention to respond to them, in which case they should offer me links to the tools I need to do that - a notification of a problem on a server, ideally, should carry a nice button that will open me up a terminal window with an ssh connection to that server. But some things might require my attention, but I can't give it yet - so I need to defer the task, so it doesn't then clutter my inbox, yet in such a way that it reappears when all higher-priority tasks are done. There are elements of workflow, where events need an initial "triage" to be categorised into "read-and-understood, do now, do later today, do whenever" and maybe prioritised, then later, deferred tasks need to be revisited.

Also, some event streams are shared. Perhaps an event should be handled by the first member of a team to be free, such as a shared office phone ringing, or a bug to be fixed or feature added to a software product. There needs to be some system for shared event pools, with support for events to be "claimed" from the pool by a person, or put back. Perhaps personal event systems should be able to contain proxy objects that wrap events stored in a shared pool somewhere, so they can be managed centrally as well as appearing in personal event streams along with events from other sources. Standard protocols would be required to manage this.

Looking at the relatively crude support for this kind of thing in even the supposedly integrated and smart combined email/calendar apps, I think there's a lot of fun research to be done!

June’s Challenges (by )

June has already been a bizzy month but I feel it is not too late to set myself some challenges. One of the things I want to do this month is focus on art type stuff - so that is illustrations, fimo sculptures and the like along with updating the art and craft blog. I have already started with some of this 🙂

You can now buy prints and things with some of my seascapes at Point Defect. I'm also looking for outlets for wiggly pets and things which seems to be going ok.

So my aim is to spend 30 hours over this month on art - I have already done about 12 hours 🙂

But I always have a second challenge right? I think it is going to have to be blog posts! I will be attempting to write at least 30 posts this month - this shouldn't be too hard actually but we will see 🙂

I'm a bit sad that I didn't get my writing game rolling properlly last month but at the moment money is being the stalling point with that one :/

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